California utility to disclose 65,000 emails with state regulators, says some improper

Government And Institutions Associated Press

California's largest power utility released a dozen more emails Monday that it said showed improper back-channel discussions between the utility and top state regulators.

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The emails date back to 2010 and feature a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. executive who has since left the company, Brian Cherry, describing private discussions with California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey, commission member Michael Florio, and others on PG&E project proposals and other regulatory issues.

A state utilities commission spokesman, Christopher Chow, had no immediate comment on the latest emails, the fourth series of emails to be released featuring PG&E officials discussing pending commission decisions on PG&E rate cases, penalties and other issues with Peevey, Florio and other commission officials.

PG&E also said Monday it would turn over a total of 65,000 emails between the utility and state regulators to the commission by mid-February.

The disclosures grew out of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation that concluded lax oversight by the utilities commission contributed to a 2010 PG&E pipeline explosion that killed eight people in a San Francisco suburb.

The U.S. attorney's office has indicted PG&E on charges alleging obstruction of justice in that case. PG&E said in October that both the U.S. attorney's office and the California attorney general's office have informed the utility that they also are now investigating email communications between PG&E and state regulators.

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The emails released Monday feature Cherry describing private talks with Peevey and others on PG&E projects that included a wind farm and a power plant. One email features Peevey describing an acquaintance who wished to be hired as a PG&E officer. PG&E said Monday it did not hire the applicant put forward by Peevey.

Another email describes Peevey discussing the deadly 2010 explosion in San Bruno. PG&E has yet to decide upon PG&E's penalties for the blast.

In that email, from January 2013, Cherry describes Peevey saying the city of San Bruno "could expect nothing from the commission if the matter is litigated rather than settled" out of court. The same email features Peevey allegedly describing San Bruno city leaders, who have been active in pressing for regulatory changes since the pipeline blast, as "emotional" and "nuts."

Chow, the utilities commission spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request to speak to Peevey and Florio about the new emails. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Cherry for comment have been unsuccessful.

PG&E spokesman Keith Stephens said Monday that most of the PG&E employees named in the emails are no longer with the company. In addition to earlier internal measures taken by the utility as the public controversy grew over the disclosures, the utility has revamped its training for employees who deal with regulators, and is making progress on hiring a new chief ethics officer, Stephens said.

"More broadly, PG&E is urging the CPUC to adopt new standards and processes that will allow the public to have easy, open access — preferably electronically — to communications the commission has with all parties interacting with it," the utility added in a statement.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s statement Monday adds to growing accusations of private dealings between utilities and the California Public Utilities Commission. Emails released earlier this year describe former PG&E officials discussing rate cases, PG&E campaign donations and other matters at dinners with Peevey and other private meetings with other state utility commission executives.

Peevey has not commented publicly on the allegations. He announced in October he would not seek reappointment to the commission, and presided over the last public meeting of his 12-year tenure this month.