January 16, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

State Senate Should Look Hard at New Utility Regulator

By Tom Elias, Mirror Columnist

Thomas B. Elias, Columnist

Depending on how things go in a scheduled Aug. 23 state Senate confirmation hearing on Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest choice for a seat on the powerful state Public Utilities Commission, many millions of consumers could face both health risks and higher-than-necessary electric, gas and water bills for the next six years.

That’s the length of the term to which Brown appointed his longtime close aide Clifford Rechtschaffen, labeled a “lapdog” of the oil industry by some consumer advocates. Once confirmed, he can’t be fired by either Brown or the next governor.

The Consumer Watchdog group tags him a utility lapdog, claiming Rechtschaffen in 2011 told two top state oil and gas regulators to grant hydraulic fracking permits for Occidental Petroleum Co. in Kern County on pain of firing. When they refused, citing state and federal laws requiring drinking water aquifer safety checks prior to permitting, he allegedly dismissed Derek Chernow, then acting director of the state Department of Conservation, and Elena Miller, the state’s top oil and gas supervisor. It is undisputed fact that after they were dumped by Brown’s administration, Rechtschaffen temporarily assumed Chernow’s job.

In appointing him to the five-member PUC, which often favors utility companies over their customers, Brown said his adviser “has the experience as a lawyer, teacher and specialist in environmental and energy matters…to do an outstanding job.”

Meanwhile, a usually reliable source told this column that Rechtschtaffen wrote one or more of 63 still-secret emails between Brown or his aides and the PUC from the time soon after the 2012 failure and shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. That source also said one email threatened the job of a PUC official unless that official supported a settlement dunning consumers more than two-thirds of San Onofre’s closure costs – or $3.3 billion.

Brown press secretary Evan Westrup called this claim “pure fiction,” but neither confirmed nor denied that Rechtschtaffen wrote one or more of the hidden emails, instead citing a PUC spokeswoman’s statement that “the emails in question did not relate to the San Onofre settlement…” Westrup did not respond when shown a PUC statement saying the emails were withheld in part because they reflect “discussions between … (PUC President Michael) Picker and his advisors, the disclosure of which would reveal (his) thought process regarding the matter.”

The San Onofre settlement is notorious for its essence having been reached in a secret meeting between former PUC President Michael Peevey and executives of the Southern California Edison Co. Revelations of that meeting impelled the PUC in May 2016 to order a reopening of its settlement decision.

Rechtschtaffen ignored a request to answer questions on all this. His confirmation is before the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Democratic Senate President Kevin de Leon. Similar hearings for PUC appointees have almost always been love fests between senators and appointees. More of the same seems likely this time, as de Leon craves support from Brown for his bill to make the entire state a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

Brown openly questions parts of that plan, and no one knows what he might do if de Leon’s committee were tough on his aide Rechtschtaffen.

Meanwhile, press secretary Westrup called questions about Rechtschaffen’s record “chasing bogus conspiracy theories.” He insisted the appointee will be independent. “You should know that sharp, independent thinking is among the attributes valued most by the administration,” he wrote in an email.

The most significant PUC move during Rechtschtaffen’s six months as an acting commissioner came when it signed off on the partial reopening of the Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field in northern Los Angeles. Area residents, many still suffering from malaises associated with a five-month methane leak there in 2015-16, complained Aliso Canyon should not have reopened until the still-unknown causes of the leak are found.

Commissioners did not vote on the reopening, but could have objected or asked the PUC’s executive director not to OK it. Neither Rechtschtaffen nor any other commissioner did that.

Now it’s incumbent on Rules Committee members to ask Rechtschtaffen why he did not speak up when public health might be at risk. His answers could provide clues about whether he’ll be independent of the companies he’s set to regulate.

California State Seal

Related Posts

Santa Monica’s Future: Will Developers or Residents Rule? – Part 2 Our Downtown

January 14, 2022

January 14, 2022

This is the 2nd of five weekly articles looking at the history and current condition of Santa Monica’s beachfront environment...

Column: Let’s talk About the Soil

January 12, 2022

January 12, 2022

Everyone knows that we are undergoing a climate change not seen on the earth before. We all understand what is...

A New Years Glimpse Into Santa Monica’s Future: Will Developers or Residents Rule?

January 7, 2022

January 7, 2022

It’s a New Year, a make-or-break year for Santa Monica!! How much do you care about your city and it’s...

Opinion: Attorney General Spurs on Big 2022 Housing Battle

January 7, 2022

January 7, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist There will be plenty of political battles next year, starting with likely reelection challenges to Gov....

Should California Have a Formal Right to Shelter?

January 3, 2022

January 3, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist On a de facto basis, Californians have had a right to shelter for many years. But...

SM.a.r.t Wishes for 2022

January 3, 2022

January 3, 2022

We wish for: All California residents to gain back the control of their Cities from Sacramento’s draconian power grab by...

SMa.r.t. 2021 Christmas Card

December 22, 2021

December 22, 2021

Dear Readers, SM.a.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow) wish you all a joyous Holiday Season and a Wonderful...

Seismic Water Resiliency

December 16, 2021

December 16, 2021

This is the 2nd part of two-part article  (see smmirror.com/2021/12/sma-r-t-column-its-not-your-fault/ for the first part) Last week we wrote about the...

SMa.r.t. Column: It’s Not Your Fault

December 13, 2021

December 13, 2021

This is a two-part article Two large tectonic plates are engaged in a titanic multi-million year battle to slip past...

One of LA’s Best Omakase Counters is Tucked Away in a Santa Monica Hotel Lobby

December 8, 2021

December 8, 2021

Sushi Chef Masa Shimakawa’s Soko restaurant offers an extraordinary culinary experience By Sam Catanzaro Tucked into the lobby of a...

Building Conversion in Today’s Market Environment

December 3, 2021

December 3, 2021

Adaptive reuse, repurposing, and up-cycling of industrial and commercial buildings (“Conversion”) for greater in-demand uses are rapidly becoming the direction...

Opinion: Shore Hotel and Unite Here Local 11

December 3, 2021

December 3, 2021

By David G. Brown  While reading one of the mass text messages recently sent by Unite Here Local 11 in...

State’s Housing Solution Starts Happening

December 3, 2021

December 3, 2021

By Tom Elias, Columnist It’s happening. Despite the best efforts of California’s highly ideological, developer-financed state legislators, the solution to...

Opinion: SB 9, 10: The Rebellion Begins

November 19, 2021

November 19, 2021

By Tom Elias, Columnist It was inevitable from the moment Gov. Gavin Newsom in mid-September signed this year’s two most...