Showdown at the Public Utilities Commission

judge considers PG&E penalties

Monday’s release of emails by PG&E that further illustrated it’s all too cozy relationship with the California Public Utilities Commission simply adds more impetus to the calls for a complete revamping of how the CPUC regulates utilities. 

On Tuesday, a judge heard testimony about what penalties PG&E should face for violations in other emails released three weeks ago that first revealed secret contacts between top PG&E and CPUC officials.

The violations include discussions on how to get a more favorable judge and trading higher rates for political favors. The judge is considering a wide range of sanctions.

“We offer no excuses for the past. But that’s doesn’t mean that penalties are unbounded,” said PG&E’s attorney Martin Schenker. PG&E officials said penalties should be tempered by its voluntarily disclosure of the violations, the firing of three of its high ranking executives, the hiring of a regulatory relations overseer and its own, presumably independent, ethics monitor.

But the judge got an earful from critics of the utility.

“PG&E does not deserve to be trusted. That is the lesson of what has been revealed,” said Thomas Long, the attorney for consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network.

“There need to be an independent investigation and an independent monitor,” said Steven Meyers, the City Attorney for San Bruno where eight people were killed in a gas pipeline explosion four years ago.

Anti-PG&E forces also say the CPUC should not be trusted.

“The culture of the PUC as indicated, as evidenced by the past few years is irreparably broken,” said Meyers.

“There is a huge cloud hanging over the credibility, hanging over this commission,” agreed Long.

U.S. Justice Department is now investigating these emails for criminal violations of PG&E and, potentially, CPUC President Michael Peevey.

“We’ll shower more ratepayer money on you, if you contribute to the things I think are important. That’s the very essence of corruption,” said Long.

“Thank goodness the Feds are finally getting involved because obviously the state of California with the Governor and the Attorney General haven’t lifted a finger,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane.

Whatever the judge ultimately finds and recommends, will have to be approved by a majority of the five-member Public Utilities Commission. Two of those members are deeply implicated in this unethical, if not illegal, mess.

On Tuesday, a judge heard testimony about what penalties PG&E should face for violations in other emails released three weeks ago that first revealed secret contacts between top PG&E and CPUC officials.

KTVU