Political Landscape: Decision keeps energy bills from increasing

Glendale and Burbank taxpayers quietly dodged what might have been millions of dollars in increased energy bills as a decision on clean energy policy by the California Air Resources Board favored their local utilities.

On Dec. 16, the board issued guidelines for California's cap-and-trade legislation, part of a larger effort to reduce the state's reliance on coal and other polluting sources of power. After a two-year rulemaking process, the agency decided that utilities needing so-called pollution credits initially will get them for free, rather than having to buy them from other utilities.

"We were very pleased, given the possibilities, including the possibility at one point of increasing rates as much as 30%," Glendale Water & Power General Manager Glenn Steiger said.

Ron Davis, head of Burbank Water & Power and president of the California Municipal Utilities Assn., said the decision averted a "double burn."

The state already is imposing strict timelines for conversion to solar and other non-polluting power sources under a bill signed in 2006 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that requires significant investment by utilities. Forcing some agencies to buy credits on top of that would have been unfair, Davis said.

Instead, Davis said, "We will do cap-and-trade in California, and not have rate shock to consumers."

The air board will allow free credits for the first three years of the program, which begins to take effect in 2012. By 2020, the state's goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15%, returning them to 1990 levels.

If the air board had put in place a bought-credits system, Davis said, Southern California municipal suppliers likely would have had to pay substantial sums to Northern California utilities, such as Pacific Gas & Electric and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which have access to hydroelectric power from rivers.

During the rulemaking process, Steiger said, Burbank and Glendale "put significant resources in place in order to have our opinion heard."

Davis credited the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power for playing a pivotal role in persuading California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols and others to steer clear of a paid-credits program.

"L.A. DWP gets lots of bad ink," Davis said, referring in part to coverage of financial disputes between the utility and the city of Los Angeles. "But L.A. DWP was instrumental in getting a fair outcome here."


Schiff spends day on other side

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) doesn't often go to the other side of the U.S. Capitol to conduct business.

But Schiff recently spent what he called an "otherworldly" day before the full U.S. Senate, offering closing arguments in the impeachment case against U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous. The Senate served as jurors in the case tried in principal by Schiff and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) against Porteous, a New Orleans-based judge accused of taking bribes from law firms and other ethical violations.

Schiff said the Porteous case raised novel constitutional issues, including whether federal officials can be impeached for conduct that took place before they were appointed, or for lying to the Senate.

Among the charges against Porteous were that he accepted cash and favors from lawyers when he was still a judge in the Louisiana state court system, and that he misled senators during confirmation hearings after President Clinton nominated him for the federal bench in 1994.

On Dec. 8, the Senate found Porteous guilty of both charges, as well as two charges related to his conduct as a federal judge. Porteous lost his job, pay and benefits for what was to have been a lifetime appointment.

"By reaching the verdict they did, the Senate sent a powerful message to future nominees that they can't play hide the ball and have a safe harbor for life," Schiff said.

The congressman, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, added: "To argue a case felt very familiar. On the other hand, to argue in front of the whole Senate could not have been more novel."


Reps. get more power on committees

While Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) easily survived November reelection challenges, Republicans from neighboring districts will return to Washington, D.C, in January with more power than when they left.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), whose district includes a slice of the Crescenta Valley, is incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), whose district abuts McKeon's and includes La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta, will chair the House Rules Committee. The committee has huge influence over what legislation makes it to the floor for a vote.

In a statement, Dreier said "the Rules Committee will be responsible for implementing and maintaining a commitment to the reforms that the new Republican Majority has pledged to put in place. We need to make the House more transparent and accountable to the American people. We also need to reform the rules and operations of the House to ensure that they encourage spending reductions and economic growth."

2011 also will mark the 11th straight year that Dreier will be leader of the California Republican Congressional Delegation. Of California's 53 members of House of Representatives, 34 are Democrats and 19 are Republicans.

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