Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced on December 28, 2016, the appointment of Martha Guzman Aceves and Clifford Rechtschaffen to the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”), replacing Michael Florio and Catherine Sandoval whose six-year terms expire on January 1, 2017. Martha Guzman Aceves, 39, of Sacramento, has been a deputy legislative affairs secretary in the Office of the Governor since 2011, focusing on natural resources, environmental protection, energy and food and agriculture. Clifford Rechtschaffen, 59, of Oakland, has served as a senior advisor in the Office of the Governor since 2011, where he has worked on climate, energy, and environmental issues.
Both incoming Commissioners will be coming directly from Governor Brown’s Office. Together with President Michael Picker, who also worked in Governor Brown’s Office, this new Commission will have especially close ties to the Governor. This is significant because Sacramento has tried to reign in the CPUC in the wake of the widespread controversy following the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.
Both incoming Commissioners have backgrounds in energy and environmental issues. Notably, neither comes in with a background in telecommunications. The Governor has already directed the CPUC to work with the California Research Bureau to study the governance of telecommunications service. By appointing Commissioners without telecommunications experience, this could be a further indicator that telecommunications regulation may be on its way out from the CPUC’s purview.
Finally, both incoming Commissioners are Democrats. While this does not change the partisan makeup of the CPUC (all 5 are Democrats), it may be especially significant in the coming four years, where the incoming federal administration has vowed to ease federal regulations impacting utility businesses. There is an open question as to whether states might compensate for the potential easing of federal regulation—and the presence of an all Democrat CPUC could make such a response more likely.