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Van de Kamp Urges Curb on Utilities’ PUC Contacts

Times Staff Writer

State Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp on Monday proposed that San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison officials be prohibited from making off-the-record contacts with state Public Utilities Commission members and staffers during the PUC’s upcoming review of the proposed merger of the two companies.

Van de Kamp’s standard would be significantly stricter than the limited ban that PUC Administrative Law Judge Lynn Carew recently proposed. Carew’s proposal would allow utility personnel to make off-the-record contacts with commissioners as long as those comments were reported to other parties in a timely manner. Carew’s proposed rule evidently would not prohibit off-the-record contact with PUC staff members, according to Van de Kamp.

The PUC is expected to adopt Carew’s proposed rule later this month. The PUC, which operates independently from Van de Kamp’s office, is not obligated to adopt the attorney general’s proposal.

Sunshine Rules

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The stricter rule should be adopted because “the PUC’s decision on the proposed merger will directly affect millions of Californians,” Van de Kamp said in a prepared release. “Behind-the-scenes lobbying should have no place in the resolution of this issue.”

The PUC has in the past adopted “sunshine” rules during major proceedings involving utilities. Carew agreed to limit contact with commissioners after receiving a complaint from consumer group leaders, including Michael Shames, executive director of Utility Consumers Action Network, a San Diego-based consumer group.

Van de Kamp’s proposed rule would “make the PUC play it the way that the courts and all other administrative agencies play it,” Shames said Monday. “He’s asked that they ban behind-the-scenes communications outright, and that they forget this ridiculous rule about reporting conversations after the fact.”

“That’s something I’ve called for for a long time,” Shames said. “But it seems to fall upon deaf ears at the PUC.”

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