CPUC Record Disclosure Discussion Due

By Published On: June 15, 2012

The California Public Utilities Commission is set to take up June 19 and 20 a proposal to make more records filed by utilities and developed by agency staff accessible to the public. Utilities are offering qualified support, but insist that agency staff not be the ultimate arbiter of whether material they submit should be open to the public or treated confidentially. “The delegation of authority to staff to make final discretionary decisions regarding confidentiality may be unlawful,” warned San Diego Gas & Electric attorney Emma Salustro in a recent filing. The California Public Utilities code, wrote Pacific Gas & Electric vice president Brian Cherry, generally “prohibits disclosure to the public of any public utility information--not just documents submitted as ‘confidential’--without first obtaining an order of the full commission, or by the commission or a commissioner in the course of a hearing or proceeding.” Utility representatives maintain the code prevents an automatic presumption that documents are public. Yet the proposal would shift the burden of proof of confidentiality to utilties. That difference is the crux of the debate. The proposal’s goal, according to regulators, is to “provide the public with more immediate access to accident reports and records of our investigations” and to “substantially streamline public access to records and information.” Not all think the plan goes far enough. San Francisco argues the proposal should apply retroactively. The CPUC should revise its proposal to clarify that it takes precedence over past decisions from this point forward, wrote William Sanders, San Francisco deputy city attorney. The commission proposed the new rules in the wake of the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion in 2010 when it became subject to criticism by public officials and state legislators that it was withholding too much information from the public. Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) authored legislation to open up enforcement- and safety-related records at the commission to public inspection. His bill, SB 1000, passed the full state Senate late last month (Current, June 8, 2012). Following passage, Yee urged the CPUC to be expansive in modifying its disclosure rules to make as much information as possible available to the public. Utilities are arguing for less disclosure, citing concerns about market sensitive information covering power procurement agreements, information that could be used to sabotage critical infrastructure and security systems, and private data on customers and employees. They outlined their concerns in written comments filed with the commission after it issued its proposed rules April 19. In addition to changing the terms of determining confidentiality, the CPUC proposal would: -Speed disclosure of completed safety-related investigations on a routine basis, as opposed to requiring a commission vote or a judge’s ruling; -Require agency staff to create a comprehensive online index that describes the records maintained and explains whether, and how, they can be located. -Set up an online database showing requests received to treat documents as confidential and the commission’s resulting decision; and -Create an online “safety portal” that describes regulator’s safety jurisdiction, inspection, investigation, and enforcement activities. Commission staff plans to revise its proposal after the two-day workshop and bring it to the full commission Aug. 2.

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