Electromagnetic Field Exposure in California

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. Superior Court (Covalt) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 893 examined (1) whether the commission had the authority to adopt a policy on whether electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) arising from powerlines of regulated utilities were a public health risk and authority to direct utilities to take action to minimize the risk and (2) whether the commission had exercised its authority to adopt a policy on powerline EMFs. Covalt concluded that the commission had such authority and had exercised it. ( Covalt, supra, 13 Cal. 4th at pp. 923-934.) Covalt expressed "no doubt that the commission is still actively pursuing the broad policy inquiry into the potential health effects of powerline electric and magnetic fields that it initiated in 1991." ( Id. at p. 934.) The court concluded that the property owners' trial court claims not otherwise foreclosed under substantive law would interfere with the commission's activities. ( Id. at pp. 935-951.) A finding in the trial court that plaintiffs reasonably feared EMFs and that the harm to plaintiffs outweighed the social utility of the electric company's conduct would "be inconsistent with the commission's conclusion, reached after consulting with DHS, studying the reports of advisory groups and experts, and holding evidentiary hearings, that the available evidence does not support a reasonable belief that 60 Hz electric and magnetic fields present a substantial risk of physical harm, and that unless and until the evidence supports such a belief regulated utilities need take no action to reduce field levels from existing powerlines." ( Covalt, supra, 13 Cal. 4th at p. 939.) "After reviewing the current scientific evidence the commission has determined that it is not sufficient at this time to establish that electric and magnetic fields are dangerous, and on that basis has adopted a detailed interim policy on the subject . . . . A superior court determination that essentially the same evidence is sufficient to answer the question and that such fields are in fact dangerous would plainly undermine and interfere with that policy." ( Id. at p. 947.) In Ford v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (1997) 60 Cal. App. 4th 696, the Court applied Covalt's analysis to bar an action for wrongful death blamed on electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure. Ford rejected plaintiff's attempt to distinguish Covalt on the grounds that decedent's exposure to EMFs occurred before adoption of the EMF policy: "A finding by the trier of fact, however, that PG&E should have known 10 to 20 years ago that EMF's were dangerous would necessarily undermine or interfere with the PUC's subsequent determination otherwise, as ultimately expressed in its 1993 decision and order." ( Id. at pp. 703-704.)