Monday, December 6, 2021






        Just in case California legislators are looking for best, longest-lasting Christmas present they could possibly give this state’s millions of consumers, it’s this:


        Make the state’s currently uncontrolled regulators into elective officials. That’s the logical solution to what’s happening right now, when almost all are the virtual property of utility companies and other interests they are supposed to supervise.


        It’s true regulators serving on the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Air Resources Board (ARB) and Energy Commission are duty-bound to make sure prices and other rules allow for long-term survival of big companies whose practices they have the power to direct and change. So long as those companies behave prudently.


        Here’s the dictionary definition of prudence: “acting with or showing care and thought for the future.”


        Companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, General Motors, Toyota, Honda and Ford often don’t act that way.


        So any obligation to keep them alive and thriving, with guaranteed profits for the utility companies in particular, should vanish. Irresponsible behavior by PG&E has killed more than 100 persons via wildfires hitting after company actions demonstrated little or no care about the future. PG&E, for example, over the 50 years before 2010, diverted to bonuses and profits more than $65 billion in money customers paid monthly for supposed maintenance work.


        There were no penalties for this or parallel misdeeds by other companies. Similarly, no automaker has ever been penalized for repeated delays and stalling in building cleaner cars, which they falsely and loudly declared impossible before finally meeting California requirements.


        By far the worst offender among California regulators is the PUC, which gives utilities vast sums of new consumer money via rate increases while excusing or forcing customers to subsidize negligent behavior. One example is the 2019 creation of the state Wildfire Fund, designed to pay billions of dollars in damages for future fires the PUC and the utilities expect the companies to spark because of many years of poor maintenance.


        Most recently, Gov. Gavin Newsom and California’s two U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, called on the PUC to shut down the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage site, which leaked methane gas onto the Porter Ranch portion of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles for more than four months in 2015 and 2016.


        More than 1,000 households had to relocate, two schools closed for long periods and the Southern California Gas Co. eventually paid a $1.8 billion settlement to more than 35,000 persons sickened by the leak, no big deal for that behemoth company.


        But no one ever claimed the leak was permanently plugged, even as SoCalGas kept Aliso Canyon and similar sites open indefinitely. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown declared this situation an emergency and Newsom told the PUC to close the site.


        But because the PUC answers to no one, its members serving six-year terms and almost impossible to remove, Aliso Canyon stayed open. Then, just last month, the PUC voted unanimously to increase amounts of gas stored there.


        The reason listed was a supposition that only stored gas can prevent the kind of interruptions in home heating that have plagued Texas in recent winters, when many Texans endured sub-freezing temperatures in their homes.


        Yet, there is no evidence that Aliso Canyon or other SoCal Gas storage sites are needed to avert heating problems. These have never occurred here and there is little evidence for claims there might be blockages this winter on pipelines bringing natural gas to California from the Permian Basin of Texas and Oklahoma or the fracking fields of Wyoming and western Colorado.


        So the latest PUC action on Aliso Canyon is another in a half-century string of decisions where regulators favor monopolistic companies over customers.


        The only way to change all this is by fundamentally altering the rules by which regulators operate in this state. That would take a constitutional amendment making the regulators elective officers who answer to voters (consumers).


        It’s high time legislators got started on that, especially since they could right now legitimately present any such measure as a Christmas gift to consumers that would keep on giving indefinitely.



    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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