Out West student blog

Exploring the relationship between tribes and the state 

A female student sits smiling on an orange hammock
Allison Chow, a Shultz Energy Fellow, works remotely for her internship at the California Public Utilities Commission

Allison Chow, MS '23 
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Area of Study: Civil and Environmental Engineering, Atmosphere/Energy Program
Intern, California Public Utilities Commission

As she works to support energy development with the Yurok Tribe, Allison Chow navigates the unique relationship between tribes, investor-owned utilities, and the state 

This summer, I had the opportunity to intern at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in the Office of Commissioner Darcie L. Houck. The CPUC is the California state agency that regulates all of the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in California. This regulation occurs through formal proceedings, which can be categorized as adjudicatory, rate-setting, and quasi-legislative. These proceedings are conducted through formal processes with an assigned commissioner and administrative law judge, parties, and formal filings that result in proposed decisions voted upon by the full commission. Behind every vote, each commissioner has an office of advisors who are responsible for staying informed on different topics and proceedings. As the commissioners and their offices keep up to date, they must navigate strict rules on meetings and communications governed by CPUC ex-parte rules and the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which together ensure that communications are properly reported on and accessible to the public. Learning about the processes behind each decision made at the Commission has been an enlightening experience, which has expanded my understanding of decision-making at a state-agency level.  

Working in Commissioner Houck’s office, I have also been able to explore areas of the energy and utility policy arena that have not been covered in my coursework. Commissioner Houck has an extensive background representing Native American tribes across the country and has developed strong relations with many tribal governments in California. For my summer project, the Commissioner has introduced me to government members from the Yurok Tribe who are leading energy development on the Yurok Reservation, which is a helpful lens for considering recommendations for a potential energy assistance center for tribes at the CPUC. I meet weekly with the Yurok Tribe to learn about their ongoing projects towards energy sovereignty and resilience, and we discuss pathways forward in navigating the unique relationship between tribes, IOUs, and the state. As the summer comes to a close, I hope that this project will bring the Yurok a small step closer to their energy goals and lay the groundwork for stronger government-to-government relations between Tribes and the state. 

My fellowship this summer has expanded my understanding of energy policy in California. I have been exposed to the formal processes that constitute decisions at a California state agency and the unique government-to-government relationship between tribes and the state. As I continue to navigate my career, I will use the invaluable lessons I’ve learned here at the CPUC to dive deeper into energy policy in California and across Indian Country. 


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