Senator Min Authors Bill to End Political Lobbying Funded by Utility Ratepayers
(SACRAMENTO, CA) – Today, Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 938, which will prohibit political lobbying by investor-owned utilities that can be charged to ratepayers. While federal law technically prohibits utilities from passing lobbying costs onto their ratepayers, these laws are riddled with loopholes, which has allowed utility companies across the country to effectively engage in political lobbying using ratepayer money. Last year, it came to light that the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) was actively lobbying against the state’s clean energy rules and using ratepayer money to do this, billing its customers $36 million for political activities intended to reverse and undermine the state’s strong climate policies.
“It is absolutely outrageous that investor-owned utilities are lobbying to weaken our state’s climate standards, and then passing these costs on to ratepayers,” said Senator Min. “SB 938 will put a stop to this practice by imposing stiff penalties on utilities that try to use ratepayer money for political purposes and creating new reporting requirements to make sure the utilities are actually complying with these rules.”
“At a time when customers are burdened with record breaking monthly utility bills, corporations need strong limits and meaningful penalties preventing spending of any ratepayer dollars on PR television commercials and lobbying the Public Utilities Commission to raise rates even higher,” said Mark Toney, Executive Director of The Utility Reform Network (TURN).
"With the bill's accountability and transparency measures, Californians can be assured they are not paying for utility shenanigans in their energy bills," said Matt Vespa, Senior Attorney at Earthjustice. "For far too long, utilities like SoCalGas have tried to make their customers foot the bill for their political influence machines aimed at keeping California dependent on fossil fuels. Californians shouldn't have to pay for their utility's lobbying against climate and clean air standards."
"Californians' gas and electric bills are high enough without having to foot the bill for their utilities to lobby and campaign against their interests,” said David Pomerantz, Executive Director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a national utility watchdog organization. “The enforcement provisions in Sen. Min's bill will make California a leader in protecting customers and are desperately needed to show repeat offenders like SoCalGas that breaking the rules and harming customers will carry consequences from now on."
Senator Min’s bill will strengthen existing law, which experts have long described as a paper tiger that has failed to deter utilities from abusing funds from Californians’ energy bills. It will also explicitly define “political influence activity,” prevent energy customers from paying for the membership dues in national trade groups like the American Gas Association that lobby against energy efficiency and climate protections, and require utilities to disclose whether expensive advertising campaigns are paid for by their customers or their shareholders.
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