PUC nominee OK’d by state panel;

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Proposed chief said he accepted free SFO parking

San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento: Gov. Gray Davis‘ nominee to head the state’s powerful Public Utilities Commission won a key endorsement from a state Senate committee Wednesday even though he has admitted he broke a conflict-of-interest law.

Michael Peevey, who was appointed to the commission by Davis last March and became commission president in December, was approved for the post on a 4-0 vote by the Senate Rules Committee. He still faces a vote in the full Senate, which has the power to approve or deny many of the governor’s appointees.

The vote Wednesday came after a consumer advocate asked the committee to oppose the confirmation because Peevey received more than $2,100 in free parking from the San Francisco International Airport last year while he was a commissioner. Peevey acknowledged the gift in a routine conflict-of-interest statement filed with the PUC on Monday.

State rules bar officials from accepting more than $340 per year in gifts from any group or individual.

Peevey said he was not familiar with state rules regarding gifts, and noted that he had sought a parking pass from SFO because he needed regular flights to Southern California, where he was undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer.

But Doug Heller, with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said public officials should be well versed in the state’s conflict-of-interest laws.

“This is the guy who is president of the PUC, and he is breaking a very basic rule,” Heller said. “He is showing an utter disdain for the law.”

The PUC, based in San Francisco, has regulatory powers over several industries, including energy and telecommunications, and sets the rates consumers pay for electricity and telephone service. The commission does make some decisions regarding SFO, and Peevey has recused himself from those votes.

He has agreed not to accept free parking at SFO in the future.

Peevey is a former president of the giant utility Southern California Edison and has run two other energy-related businesses.

He told the committee his goals for the commission were to increase the stability and predictability of Californians’ electricity rates; increase renewable power options in the state; and help make the state more energy efficient.

Consumer groups have voiced concerns about Peevey since he was nominated by Davis, saying he favors business interests.

Lenny Goldberg, a lobbyist for The Utility Reform Network, noted Peevey had sided with large electricity users like manufacturers over small businesses and residential consumers in an issue before the PUC regarding whether companies can contract with alternate energy suppliers.

But Peevey told Senate President pro tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, that he is open to reviewing the issue. Burton, chairman of the Rules Committee, voted for Peevey’s confirmation.


E-mail Mark Martin at [email protected]

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