The leader of a powerful state Assembly committee that oversees utilities and telecommunications last week traveled to Singapore for an Easter break “study trip” sponsored by a nonprofit foundation that’s financed by business, labor and environmental groups.
Advocates questioned the propriety of the trip by Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee Chairman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood).
At worst the arrangement can provide special interest groups with opportunities to secure face time with lawmakers and regulators, Capitol observers said Monday. At best they look bad, said Phillip Ung, the public affairs spokesman for California Forward, a group that works for government openness and ethical behavior.
The trip was organized and financed by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy. The foundation’s overseas, all-expense-paid visits have emerged as a major element in an unfolding scandal involving the close ties and improper communications between the former president of the state Public Utilities Commission, Michael Peevey, and executives of utilities that the commission regulates.
Rendon’s committee last month held an oversight hearing into PUC operations that featured testimony about a meeting between Peevey and a Southern California Edison vice president during a 2013 foundation trip to an energy conference in Warsaw, Poland. Handwritten notes on hotel stationery showed that the two men discussed a proposed deal to apportion the cost of closing the San Onofre nuclear power plant.
The notes were seized from Peevey’s La Canada Flintridge home by state investigators. They served a search warrant in January.
Rendon, both during and after the hearing, has taken a public and forceful stance in favor of transparency at the PUC and has asked for copies of emails detailing a settlement on the nearly $5-billion cost of closing the San Onofre plant.
This year’s trip to Singapore focused on the Asian island city-state’s economic and environmental policies. Unlike trips in previous years, this one had no participation from PUC members or any of California’s four regulated electricity and natural gas utilities: Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric Co, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Gas Co.
Rendon, in an interview, called the trip informative, especially about curbing greenhouse gas emissions and providing high-speed Internet access. He noted that the participants came from “competing interests,” including environmental groups and independent electricity generating companies.
Those same players can get similar access in Sacramento, Rendon said.
In addition to Rendon, lawmakers who traveled on this year’s foundation trip included state Sens. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) and Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and Assembly members Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), Ling-Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar), Christopher Holden (D-Pasadena), Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) and Shirley Weber (D-San Diego).
Industry participants represented the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Environmental Defense Fund, Comcast and the Independent Energy Producers Assn., among others.