Watching the watchers at public utilities

friday mixer bannerState regulators have been under intense scrutiny in recent history — overseeing utilities that are shutting down or shoring up nuclear power plants, dealing with an environmental disaster that’s displaced thousands, and even trying to coordinate the cleanup of a now-shuttered, lead-leaking battery plant.

So this week in Sacramento, has come a push to do something about those agencies that are responsible for regulating and overseeing companies, whose environmental records have been less than stellar.

Even, perhaps, criminal.

Ben Adler is Capitol Bureau Chief for Capitol Public Radio and Jeremy White is a political reporter for the Sacramento Bee.

Both joined us for the Mixer.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), who chairs the Utilities and Commerce Committee, has a measure he’s pushing to get to the state ballot that would strip the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) of its constitutional protections.

By doing that, lawmakers would be able to start from scratch in making what, they say, would be a more specialized – and toothier – agency for industries it would oversee.

The CPUC regulates Southern California Gas Company, whose Aliso Canyon Storage Facility has been leaking natural gas since last October, causing all kinds of disruptions to daily life in Porter Ranch.

Gatto says the way things are don’t make much sense.

Meanwhile, State Senate Leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) says it may be time to have other agencies take over for California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, after a recent report found the agency can’t keep up with its responsibilities.

De León called for the review last year, after it came out that the department allowed the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon to emit toxic chemicals such as lead and arsenic for years.

“They have been asleep at the wheel for a very, very long time,” de Leon said, adding, that “it’s not just an issue of leadership at the highest level, but something that’s cultural and systematic.”