Opponents of Utility Merger at Odds Over Review Plans
Some opponents of San Diego Gas & Electric’s planned merger with Southern California Edison are at odds with San Diego City Atty. John Witt over the impact of state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren’s decision to review a key phrase in the state law that governs utility mergers.
The state Public Utilities Commission, which must approve the controversial merger, last month granted Lungren additional time to study the phrase, which mandates that mergers “not adversely affect competition.” Lungren, who took office in January, has questioned the constitutionality of the language that was approved last year by former Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp.
Witt, who met with Lungren in Sacramento on Thursday, said that Lungren’s decision to review one small issue should not affect the state Public Utilities Commission’s merger vote later this year because “the overwhelming weight of the evidence (is) against the merger.”
But some merger opponents are worried that Lungren’s decision to review the narrow antitrust standard is one of several signs that Lungren has shifted gears and weakened his office’s opposition to the merger.
“Lungren is changing or toning down his opposition to the merger,” said Michael Shames, executive director of Utility Consumers Action Network, a San Diego-based consumer group that opposes the merger. “We, his allies in this case, are no longer sure if he is opposing the merger.”
Shames noted that Lungren’s first merger-related filing with the PUC early in February lacked the “strong anti-merger language” that Van de Kamp used in several previous filings. “He’s sanitized the (attorney general’s) position tremendously,” Shames said.