Consumer Groups Oppose Utilities Panel Appointee

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Consumer advocates and public-interest lawyers joined Thursday in calling on leaders in the California Senate to block the confirmation of one of Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest nominations to the Public Utilities Commission.

The advocacy groups Consumer Watchdog, Food & Water Watch, Rootskeeper and Save Porter Ranch joined San Diego law firm Aguirre & Severson in urging Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and his colleagues not to confirm Clifford Rechtschaffen’s seat on the utilities panel.

“Rechtschaffen’s record shows that he will pander to the largest energy companies in the state at great expense to the public, to the proper role of government and to fair play,” the coalition wrote to committee members.

In December, Brown named Rechtschaffen and Martha Guzman Aceves to the commission to succeed former commissioners Michel Florio and Catherine J.K. Sandoval.

“Cliff’s experience as a lawyer, teacher and specialist in environmental and energy matters equips him to do an outstanding job on the commission,” Brown said in announcing his nominations.

The consumer groups are skeptical of Rechtschaffen, who has been serving as a commissioner pending confirmation.

Among other things, they criticized the commission nominee for terminating two oil and gas regulators in 2011, after Occidental Petroleum and its attorney — former Gov. Gray Davis — lobbied Brown to hasten some permit approvals.

They also accused Rechtschaffen of eliminating regulations in order to benefit oil and gas companies.

“Rechtschaffen’s ignoring of (Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources) standards may have directly led to the failure of injection well SS 25 in Aliso Canyon,” the letter said, referring to a large methane gas leak near Porter Ranch.

The 2015 blowout in a well owned by San Diego-based Sempra Energy drove thousands of people from their homes for months on end.

On behalf of Rechtschaffen and the commission, spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said, “These baseless allegations do not merit a response.”

De Leon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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