Op-Ed Commentary: Taxpayers Need To See PUC Communications

Published on

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission denied access once again to scores of communications that it exchanged with Southern California Edison, the office of Governor Jerry Brown, and others over the ratepayer shakedown to cover the shuttering of a flawed Southern California nuclear power plant.

The CPUC is illegally withholding information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, according to public interest attorneys, Mike Aguirre and Maria Severson who requested the records. “The public documents sought under the California Public Records Act and the California Constitution pertain to a matter of public interest,” the attorneys had written in an appeal to the commission. “The CPUC is forcing millions of people and families, schools, businesses and local governments to pay more than $3.3 billion over a decade for the San Onofre nuclear power plant, even though it generates no electricity.”

Any shred of credibility that the CPUC had left in the wake of scandals over its shielding of major investor-owned utilities whose sloppiness and greediness cause pipeline explosions (PG&E), methane well blowouts (Southern California Gas), and radioactive leaks (Southern California Edison) just evaporated.

Every Californian should care that state government is obstructing justice by withholding public information that would reveal whether public servants helped a major investor-owned utility cover up who was really responsible for one of the biggest financial and environmental messes in the state. The public has a right to records that could prove collusion between government regulators, the Governor’s Office, and Southern California Edison to charge ratepayers for the utility’s decision to go with a suboptimal design for replacement steam generators to save time and a buck on federal relicensing.

The attorneys want to see emails to and from 22 individuals, including a roster of SCE executives, CPUC commissioners and advisors, and an Administrative Law Judge who snuffed out the commission’s public investigation before determining who was responsible for the defective generators that led to the plant's premature shuttering after leaking radioactive steam.

The crooked $4.7 billion ex parte deal was cut in a Warsaw hotel room between former Commission President Michael Peevey, now under criminal investigation, and an SCE executive, in 2013. At the time, current CPUC President Michael Picker was a key Brown senior energy advisor. Brown appointed him a commissioner in January 2014 and PUC President when Peevey resigned under a cloud in December that year. Michael Picker’s communications are relevant.

The commission has refused to release 63 communications and three redacted records on the subject of San Onofre between current PUC President Michael Picker and the Governor’s Office. The commission’s excuse is that it would reveal the “deliberative and mental thought processes” of commissioners. But that just doesn’t answer the question of what Picker knew about the crooked deal cut in Warsaw, or why the CPUC never examined whether SCE acted reasonably in its handling of the steam generators’ replacement.

Governor Jerry Brown’s office was also involved, according to the filing, and any communications to and from that office showing obstruction of justice are not exempt from disclosure. The Governor’s Office has done its best to make sure the communications are never released. In 2015, Aguirre and Severson sued for the records in Superior Court and a San Francisco judge found “something about this just doesn’t sound right, about stonewalling public information like this,” while surmising that the commission was hiding something that it “doesn’t want out there.”

The judge was about to arrange for review to decide if the communications could be released when an appellate court judge who went to law school with Governor Brown and served in his administration before Brown appointed him to Superior Court and then the appellate court sent the case back to — the CPUC. The CPUC’s decision is meant to prevent any sunshine from disinfecting government corruption. Government officials can run, but let’s hope they can’t hide and justice prevails.

This fight will continue in federal court, which has reserved the right to hear the case over how the $4.7 billion tab was calculated, and Aguirre and Severson may yet win.


Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog, a progressive non-profit organization that advocates for taxpayer and consumer interests, with a focus on insurance, health care, political reform, privacy and energy.

Latest Videos

Latest Releases

In The News

Latest Report

Support Consumer Watchdog

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, press releases and special reports.

More Releases