SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) – California lawmakers are moving to rein in the state’s Public Utilities Commission by taking the first steps toward requiring the agency to justify its entire yearly $1.4 billion budget. The move comes amid mounting criticism of the agency and concerns it is too closely aligned with utilities.

Last Wednesday, an Assembly budget subcommittee voted 4-0 to impose “zero-based budgeting” on the C.P.U.C.

“It is probably one of the loudest wake-up calls that the state legislature can give to a state agency,” said Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park.)

The matter now goes to the full Assembly budget committee for a vote, which Gordon expects will also ratify the measure.

“At some level – it’s justify your existence,” said Gordon of the budgeting tactic, which “is a request and a requirement that we look at every penny that is being spent.”

A similar measure to increase oversight on the C.P.U.C. is being discussed in the state Senate.

Consumer advocate Mark Toney of the watchdog group The Utility Reform Network (TURN) says it’s long overdue.

“The P.U.C., over the past several years, has simply been asleep at the wheel,” Toney told ConsumerWatch.

Among the agency’s failures, according to Toney,  are deregulating telephone rates and overturning the Wireless Consumer Bill of Rights.Toney also says the C.P.U.C. played a role in the 2011 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

“It’s very clear from the National Transportation Safety Board that the epic negligence in keeping track of pipeline safety absolutely contributed to the San Bruno accident,” Toney said.

He’s not the only one heaping blame on the agency. At last week’s hearing Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Van Nuys) offered a scathing lecture to C.P.U.C. president Paul Clanon.

“The P.U.C. has not been doing the right things,” Blumenfield said. “We will reform an institution run amok from its core mission of safety, reliability and affordability. We will rebuild it brick by brick,” Blumenfield promised.

The C.P.U.C. did not respond to several requests for comment.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)





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