Updated: California political commission requests emails related to San Bruno explosion

Dive Brief:

  • Several media sources have confirmed the California Fair Political Practices Commission (CFPP) is requesting additional documents that may pertain to the deadly San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion in 2010: specifically any contacts between political aide Susan Kennedy and the Public Utilities Commission.
  • The request includes contacts by Kennedy, a one-time advisor to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and companies she is involved with including Susan Kennedy Inc. and her consulting firm Caliber Strategies.
  • The general idea is that Kennedy may have acted as a back-channel communication link between the commission and Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility responsible for the explosion. However, a spokesperson said the request was part of a larger probe into whether Kennedy’s emails triggered lobbying reports. The utility’s improper communications with regulators previously led to CPUC President Michael Peevey to not seek reappointment.

Dive Insight:

The parties named in the CFPP’s request are not commenting but are cooperating, local media reports. The news of possible additional improper communications between state regulators and the utilities they oversee comes as PG&E prepares to pay penalties related to the 2010 San Bruno disaster.

The Utility Reform Network spokesperson Mindy Spatt told Capital Public Radio that “just at this point, when they are about to agree to pay these penalties, which will be credited to gas customers, PG&E has revealed another set of emails involving Susan Kennedy and several very high-up officials at the Public Utilities Commission.”

However, a spokesperson for Kennedy noted the emails were part of a larger probe in seeing if she triggered lobbying reports.

“Ms. Kennedy was asked by the Fair Political Practice Commission, an entity that enforces California’s administrative lobby compliance rules, whether any of her communication with the CPUC triggered lobbying reports,” said James C. Harrison, a lawyer representing Kennedy, in a statement to Utility Dive.. “She provided information regarding San Bruno to demonstrate that her communication did not trigger the lobbying reporting rules. The FPPC is also considering whether Susan’s communication on other matters with the CPUC was consistent with the FPPC’s administrative requirements and she is fully cooperating with that inquiry.”

Improper emails between CPUC officials and utilities came to light several years ago and led to a shakeup at the commission. Following the 2010 San Bruno disaster, emails revealed the close relationship between former PUC Chair Michael Peevey and PG&E. Peevey subsequently announced he would not seek reappointment after his term finished at the end of 2014.

The FPPC’s request for communications between Kennedy and the PUC does not stop there. The commission also wants emails between Kennedy and her companies, and Lyft and Transportation Network Companies.

Emails leading to Peevey’s ouster showed PG&E attempting to secure a favorable judge for a proposed gas rate increase. Subsequently, emails showed contact between Peevey and executives with Southern California Edison, at a time the commission faced multi-billion dollar decisions concerning the closure of the utility’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.