The Utility Consumers? Action Network (UCAN) attempted to block a settlement filed late last year over rates for San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas. In testimony filed at the California Public Utilities Commission January 20, UCAN said details to support the settlement were lacking and much of what it has found is wasting ratepayers? funds. The December 19, 2003, settlement filed with the California Public Utilities Commission among the utilities, the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, and the California Utility Employees, among others, is meant to replace the traditional triennial rate case?a long, detailed enumeration of utilities? proposed spending and pass-through in rates. The utilities said the settlement calls for a $19.6 million electricity rate reduction and a $1.8 million increase for gas. UCAN is calling for a $102 million rate reduction. The group says the utilities? current settlement would increase the companies? revenues by between $45 million and $60 million. The consumer group, as well as the administrative law judge on the case, noted that details were missing. UCAN calls it a ?black box? outcome. CPUC judge Doug Long asked the utilities for additional information on the settlement on December 31, 2003. Ed Van Herik, a spokesperson for the utilities, said that settlement documents have an account-by-account revenue justification ?with rationale? for changes and that they are being made available to the judge. UCAN alleges that the utilities? Regional Public Affairs Department ?blurs the line between lobbying and regional service? and says SDG&E is requesting an increase in the department?s budget from $1 million to $2 million. UCAN executive director Michael Shames also alleges that the office has been too generous in giving away perks such as tickets to sporting and music events. Van Herik said there are two lobbyists working out of the office?one for each utility??to ensure our system operates as efficiently as possible.? He denies that the settlement requested a doubling of the department?s budget. UCAN?s objections beg a larger question regarding a change in the way the commission handles what used to be its reason for being prior to deregulation?either ensuring that utilities spend ratepayers? money wisely or calling for disallowance. Utilities ?have been given the ability to file less extensive cost-of-service filings as part of the trend towards a lighter hand of regulation,? noted UCAN. It asked for the commission to return to an in-depth hearing process for rate cases.