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San Jose Mercury News (California)
Dec 17, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by John Woolfolk, Mercury News

Poizner nominated for utilities commission;

Governor Also Selects Democrat
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first nominees to the powerful state agency that regulates energy and phone companies are a Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur and a Berkeley environmental law consultant, both of whom support more competition in energy markets.

Steve Poizner, 47, a Los Gatos Republican who just lost an Assembly bid, and Dian Grueneich, 52, a Democrat with a San Francisco environmental and energy law firm, would replace Carl Wood and Loretta Lynch on the five-member California Public Utilities Commission.

''They share my commitment to establishing a business climate that will attract investment and jobs to California,'' Schwarzenegger said.

Consumer advocates, who saw Wood and Lynch as ratepayer champions on a panel favoring business interests, were skeptical of the new nominees, particularly Poizner because of his background as a business executive.

''I don't think it's appropriate that we keep putting retired corporate executives into the role of regulating the corporations,'' said Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. ''We need more people on the board who care about average citizens, people who pay the bills, not the ones who send the bills.''

But industry, business and environmental advocates praised the nominees, saying they will bring valuable experience to the job and ease the divisiveness and personality conflict that has plagued the panel in recent years.

''These are both very positive appointments to the commission with knowledge of the industry,'' said Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers Association.

V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, said: ''I don't think either one of them is particularly ideological. I think we'll see a new era of certainly less acrimony and tension, and maybe some focus on solutions to problems.''

The commission regulates investor-owned electricity, gas, telephone and water utilities, as well as railroads and certain passenger and household goods carriers.

Commissioners are appointed by the governor to six-year terms. The position pays a salary of $114,191 and requires Senate confirmation. State Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, who was out ill Thursday, had no comment, an aide said.

The current commissioners are all Democrats appointed by former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, whom Schwarzenegger, a Republican, ousted in a recall election a year ago.

Poizner, who earned a business degree from Stanford University, founded Strategic Mapping, a software company, and SnapTrack, which helped put global positioning system technology into cell phones.

After selling SnapTrack to Qualcomm in 2000, Poizner served as a White House Fellow advising the Bush administration on computer security and has since been a guest teacher on government and economics at Mount Pleasant High School in San Jose.

Poizner spent $6.2 million of his own money running in November as a ''Schwarzenegger Republican'' for a state Assembly seat he narrowly lost to Redwood City Democrat Ira Ruskin. He supports partial energy deregulation allowing large businesses to shop for power suppliers.

''I'm just really looking forward to serving,'' Poizner said.

Grueneich, who earned her law degree from Georgetown University, is a former president of the League of Conservation Voters, and has promoted customer choice of electricity providers, a hallmark of deregulation. She did not respond to phone calls or e-mail Thursday.

''She's a moderate Democrat who looks at the world in a way that she sees competition as a positive thing,'' Smutny-Jones said.
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Contact John Woolfolk at jwoolfolk@mercurynews.com




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