Public Interest Groups Urge Senate To Deny Gov’s Point Man Confirmation To PUC After He Fired Tough Oil Well Safety Regulators

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SANTA MONICA, CA — Public interest advocacy groups Consumer Watchdog, Food & Water Watch, Rootskeeper, Save Porter Ranch, and public interest attorneys Aguirre & Severson LLP, have urged the Senate Rules Committee not to confirm former aide to Governor Jerry Brown, Cliff Rechtschaffen, to the California Public Utilities Commission. Rechtschaffen has a record of ignoring federal laws and state regulations to aid the oil and gas industry while jeopardizing the environment and public health.

“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 groups wrote to the Senate Rules Committee.

“Rechtschaffen’s dismissal of tough oil and gas regulators in the state on behalf of one of its largest oil companies is one of the saddest chapters in this state’s unapologetic obeisance to Big Oil,” the letter said. “It should not go without full and complete public disclosure in the confirmation process and thorough questioning of Mr. Rechtschaffen about details yet to be in the public record.”

To read the letter, see:

Cliff Rechtschaffen fired two top oil and gas regulators in 2011, after Occidental Petroleum and its attorney, former Governor Gray Davis, pressured Governor Jerry Brown to speed up the granting of oil industry permits without proper environmental review, according to court papers. His actions, and subsequent restructuring of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), eventually led to the drilling of more than 2,400 oilfield wastewater disposal wells into federally protected aquifers. In the wake of the firings, and granting of a Kern County fracking permit, Occidental contributed a total of $500,000 to Proposition 30, Brown’s initiative to raise taxes.

Rechtschaffen’s actions killed emergency regulations that the fired regulators were drafting to improve the safety of cyclic steaming, a common method of hydraulic fracturing. Cyclic steaming in wells with damaged casings can affect nearby wells and open up sinkholes like one in which a Chevron worker had died earlier in 2011. “Without the regulations in place, oil companies carried on the dangerous practice of cyclic steaming without having to report everything from well pressures and conditions to proper posting of when and where cyclic steaming was taking place,” the letter said. “By undermining well rules as the Governor’s point person on oil and gas issues, Rechtschaffen put public health and safety at risk.”

In reviewing Rechtschaffen’s record, the letter also raised questions about:

•Rechtschaffen’s role in the largest methane well blowout in US history at Aliso Canyon, the natural gas reserve owned by Southern California Edison and parent, Sempra. “Rechtschaffen’s ignoring of DOGGR standards may have directly led to the failure of injection well SS 25 in Aliso Canyon,” the letter said

The letter also questioned his role in Governor Jerry Brown’s emergency proclamation on Aliso Canyon in 2016. “That proclamation swept aside any public investigation into the causes of the blowout that only the PUC has the authority to open, and gave SoCalGas direct cover to hire and direct consultants to determine the cause of the debacle, and to control when and what the public learns about it. As Brown’s trusted energy advisor, Rechtschaffen would have had to be a party to the proclamation’s nuances.”

•Rechtschaffen’s role in rolling California into a larger Western regional electric grid, which he has championed. “The push to fold California into a Western grid risks opening it up to imports of dirty coal power from Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp, which owns more coal-fired power plants than any other US company, and also subjects California to the same possible swindle of consumers and the environment as we had during the California electricity crisis caused by a thoroughly discredited experiment in deregulation at the turn of the century,” the letter said. “A regional grid puts the system into the regulatory hands of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, taking away the state’s ability to control its own energy destiny.”

The letter concluded: “It is vital that any commissioner appointed to the PUC bring a strong record of acting in the public interest, and not of acting on behalf of industry, be it oil and gas producers, or investor-owned utilities pushing fossil fuels at the expense of ratepayers and the public health. Cliff Rechtschaffen has no such demonstrated record. For all the above-explained reasons, we urge you not to confirm Rechtschaffen to the PUC.”


Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, following everything from oil and gas to the regulation of toxic substances in the state of California. She comes to us from Marketplace, the largest U.S. broadcast show on business and economics heard by ten million listeners each week on 400 radio stations. Liza worked at this public radio show for a decade, first as Commentary Editor and then as Senior Editor for both Washington and Sustainability News.

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