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Marybel Batjer, President of California Pubic Utilities Commission, CPUC.
Marybel Batjer, President California Public Utilities Commission. (CPUC)
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CA Senators Go Easy on Bureaucrats After Utility Chiefs Grilled Over Power Shut Downs

Part ll of California Senate utility hearing

By Katy Grimes, November 20, 2019 2:03 am

In Part l of Utility Chiefs Grilled by California Senators Over Power Shut Downs, the CEOs and COOs of the California’s largest utilities testified Monday in a hearing held by the California Senate Energy and Utilities Committee over the shutting off of power for millions of people in an attempt to prevent wildfires.

The second part of the hearing had Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “energy czar” and agency heads give their testimony. While the first part of the hearing was called a dog and pony show, the second part can also be described as such: a highly promoted, over-staged presentation, replete with bureaucrat-speak.

Most concerning however, is that even after this 7-hour hearing of mea culpas, doublespeak and bureaucratic blather, most Californians know there is a great deal of blame and guilt to go around, but don’t believe the lawmakers really care about finding the cause(s), or correcting the inherent problems.

Ayn Rand described this dilemma in Businessmen vs. Bureaucrats:

A businessman’s success depends on his intelligence, his knowledge, his productive ability, his economic judgment—and on the voluntary agreement of all those he deals with: his customers, his suppliers, his employees, his creditors or investors. A bureaucrat’s success depends on his political pull. A businessman cannot force you to buy his product; if he makes a mistake, he suffers the consequences; if he fails, he takes the loss. A bureaucrat forces you to obey his decisions, whether you agree with him or not—and the more advanced the stage of a country’s statism, the wider and more discretionary the powers wielded by a bureaucrat. If he makes a mistake, you suffer the consequences; if he fails, he passes the loss on to you, in the form of heavier taxes.

Committee Chairman Sen. Ben Hueso opened the State Oversight of Public Safety Power Shutoffs portion of the hearing by introducing Ana Matosantos, Cabinet Secretary and Energy Czar for Gov. Gavin Newsom. “What do I call you,” Hueso said… “‘Madam Secretary’ or ‘Your Highness’?'”

The Senate committee had no questions for Newsome’s “energy czar,”Ana Matosantos. (PROMESA)

Matosantos clearly knew she was not about to be grilled. “Ana is just fine,” she said.

Matosantos said she was going to keep her comments brief, “since you have all of my colleagues here who are experts.”

A few sighs emitted and eyebrows raised after her comment.

“We worked with all of our local partners, and our labor partners,” Matosantos said, “as well as putting out fires.” She added, “minimizing loss of life.”

Matosantos complimented several other agency leaders present at the hearing, for their handling of the power shutoffs.

“Goals, as established by you and [AB] 1054 are clear,” Ana Matosantos said. “We will continue working towards safe, reliable electricity, and the structure coming out of bankruptcy is prepared to do what is necessary to provide a level of resources… a level of support that is the type of electricity in the manner that California needs.”

“Safety, reliable and affordable, remains our focus, an exit that is ratepayer-neutral,” Matosantos said. “Fair treatment of the victims and all aligned with California’s clean energy goals, and recognition, and retain and support the staff that does this work is needed to ensure that as we adapt to climate change, we do it in a way when the type of disruption California has experienced is not a ‘new normal.'”

There were no questions for Cabinet Secretary, Energy Czar Ana Matosantos by the Senate committee.

Mark Ghilarducci, Director of Office of Emergency Services was up next, with several minutes of nothing new.

Julie Lee, the Acting Secretary of the Government Operations Agency read a statement she clearly was not entirely familiar with, complimenting IT Agency head Amy Tong.

Mark Ghaly, Secretary of Health and Human Services, reiterated what many others before him had said, and criticized PG&E for not reaching out to all of the baseline lists of “vulnerable” customers. He also complimented the other agency heads.

Lenny Mendonca, the Governor’s Director of Business and Economic Development, addressed the large and small businesses around the state who lost revenues during the power shutoffs. Other than talking about offering loans to businesses, it became apparent there isn’t much the state can do to assist business owners financially when they cannot operate – other than to make sure the power is kept on.

Up last for the State Oversight portion was Marybel Batjer, President of the California Public Utilities Commission. Her testimony was tedious.

“PSPS was not very well carried out by PG&E,” Batjer said. She said “I’ve spent a lot of time with my dear colleagues in real-time problem solving from leadership level, to community level.”

She acted astounded that the PSPS – Public Safety Power Shutoffs –  “intended to keep people safe, can harm when implemented haphazardly.”

But it was the CPUC who authorized the PSPS. There was no discussion at the hearing of the CPUC approval, or how the authorization works. The committee handout says discretion to use PSPS is up to the utilities.

It wasn’t until the very end of her testimony that Marybel Batjer said she’s “looking internally inside the CPUC.” She said they are “analyzing existing safety regulations for improvements.”

Several of the people attending the hearing asked me why the Legislature waited so long to hold this hearing, given the latest wildfires and power shutoffs. They also acknowledged that there would be no real changes coming out of it other than cover-your-butt statements. The consensus was the goal was to make it appear as if the Legislature deeply cares by conducting a 7-hour hearing, but no real accountability took place, or will take place.

As for state oversight, the Legislature is in charge of state agency oversight, and notably, the state agencies present at the hearing. It’s a big task, but they have shirked this many years, allowing several state agencies to become powerful, unaccountable fiefdoms –  including the CPUC as evidenced by its scandalous history.

As I wrote in 2012, among many articles about the CPUC, “The California Public Utilities Commission has a history of allowing utility companies to increase utility rates without much proof of need, resulting in some of the highest utility rates in the entire country. Despite gross mismanagement and well-documented negligence, the CPUC has allowed Pacific, Gas & Electric Company to continually increase utility rates, passing tremendous costs on to rate payers.”

The California Public Utilities Commission is responsible for regulating all utilities, and setting utility rates. So how did California end up literally on fire, but blaming the utilities? Where does the real blame reside? And why aren’t these questions asked by more media?

Katy Grimes

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California's War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?
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One thought on “CA Senators Go Easy on Bureaucrats After Utility Chiefs Grilled Over Power Shut Downs

  1. Thanks again for reporting on this clown show, Katy. It’s almost like being there!

    Sounds like there was enough gas coming out of their mouths to power a medium-sized city; we should try to harness THAT.

    This account took me back to local council and school board meetings I’ve attended where the “energy” was so bad I almost wished I had brought my garlic necklace and large cross with me.

    I’m a bit surprised to hear that they didn’t hand out plaques or statuettes to each other in recognition of the heroic job they’ve done. With a huge photo shoot afterwards!

    I hope and pray we can supplant these people. Seems like we’re screwed otherwise.
    We’ll see…

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