Monday, January 11, 2021






          Amid the flood of news from the assault on the United States Capitol and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been easy to lose track of what may be Gov. Gavin Newsom’s worst-ever appointment.


This one looks like a new example of the poor judgment the governor displayed while hypocritically attending an opulent Napa County dinner with more persons present than his own anti-coronavirus rules allow. At least he apologized for that misstep.


          Newsom also ought to apologize for naming lawyer Liane Randolph to head the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state’s prime mover in smog control, automotive gas mileage and containment of climate change.


          Before confirming her as the closest thing this state has to an environment czar, state senators should learn a bit about her beyond the encomiums spewed by Newsom.


          Randolph comes to CARB from the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), where she participated in all of that benighted agency’s failures and scandals of the last half-decade.


          Without question, CARB and the PUC are the two most powerful unelected bodies in California government. CARB continually sets national and international standards while battling automakers’ resistance to anti-smog improvements. The PUC regulates electricity and natural gas, plus some water and telephone rates, often deciding the sources and types of energy Californians use. Without CARB, there would be no hybrid or electric cars, for just one example.


          Randolph, appointed to the PUC in early 2015 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, was the chief lawyer for the state’s Natural Resources Agency before going on the commission, where she never publicly opposed any of the actions that got the PUC in trouble.


          She attended questionably legal secret commission meetings. She did not fight the PUC decision dunning customers for the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in north San Diego County, caused by a Southern California Edison Co. blunder. She went along with the PUC using public funds to hire private criminal defense lawyers for commissioners after their personal associations with Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. executives were exposed.


          She acceded in numerous “blackout blackmail” extortions by companies like Southern California Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric which kept open facilities like the SoCal Gas storage facility at Aliso Canyon above the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley even after its record-level methane leaks sickened hundreds.


          She was part of the commission’s many failures to make sure PG&E, Edison and other electric companies maintained the safety of their power lines, a prime cause of the dozens of major, deadly wildfires of the last few years.


          In the latest possible scandal, the PUC’s former executive director has accused the commission of firing her for exposing its failure to collect about $200 million in fines imposed on various utilities for their derelictions.


Even if she privately questioned some of these things, Randolph never went public about it. Like other PUC commissioners, she declined numerous requests for interviews on these subjects.


          Now Newsom has her replacing the redoubtable Mary Nichols, the sometime UCLA professor who has led California’s smog fight for most of the last 45 years.


          Said Newsom’s press release, “Liane Randolph is the kind of bold, innovative leader that will lead our fight against climate change with equity and all California’s communities at heart.”


          Bold? If she’d opposed any of the PUC’s major failings during her tenure there, Newsom’s praise might be justified. She did not. Randolph also took fire from the Center for Biological Diversity for her time at the state’s Natural Resources Agency. There, said that national group, she “allowed oil companies to break the law (in drilling operations) and devastate our water, health and climate…(She) should pledge she will protect Californians…with 2,500-foot health and safety setbacks between communities and oil and gas wells.”


          It’s rare for any governor to name someone with such a dicey background to a major job, especially so for a governor facing a recall movement and the consequences of incompetent management of several state agencies, plus a series of wrong-headed personal decisions.


          All of which makes it high time for state senators to drum up some unusual gumption and independence before rubber-stamping a key gubernatorial appointment, as they generally do.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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