PG&E Officials, CPUC President’s Chief of Staff Removed Over Inappropriate Emails

Inappropriate email exchanges regarding regulatory proceedings led to the ouster of high-ranking PG&E and California Public Utilities Commission employees today.

CPUC President Michael Peevey’s chief of staff Carol Brown resigned over emails about the assignment of administrative law judges to a regulatory case on potential PG&E rate hikes, according to the CPUC.

Peevey recused himself from future proceedings with PG&E because of inappropriate communication between his office and the utility during regulatory proceedings.

Emails released by PG&E today show employees attempting to influence the selection of judges appointed to its gas transmission and storage rate case, which would determine whether and to what extent PG&E could raise rates to complete improvements to its pipeline system.

The case is separate from regulatory actions involving the 2010 explosion of a PG&E-operated gas pipeline in San Bruno, but Peevey said today that he will also recuse himself from proceedings in that case to dispel any concerns that his office is acting improperly.

PG&E is facing $1.4 billion in fines and penalties for the San Bruno explosion and is in the process of appealing the decision announced last month.

The utility said that three employees have lost their jobs over the communication: senior vice president of regulatory affairs Thomas Bottorff, vice president of regulatory relations Brian Cherry and vice president of regulatory proceedings and rates Trina Horner.

The emails released today were written between Jan. 9 and Jan. 29. Cherry advocated to have CPUC Administrative Law Judge John Wong assigned to the case, and objected strongly when Judge Douglas Long was assigned instead.

“I’m not sure we could get someone worse,” Cherry wrote. “This is a very important case that is now in jeopardy.”

Brown responded, “I can see if anything can be done” but said repeatedly Wong was overbooked and too busy to take the case.

Eventually, Wong was assigned to the case and Cherry wrote back, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Cherry also contacted CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio informing him of Long’s appointment.

“If I were you I would bump him– you really can’t do any worse! Even a brand new ALJ would at least work hard and try — you’ll get neither from him… Keep me posted and I’ll do what I can on this end,” Florio wrote back.

Today Florio said in a statement that he took no action in response to PG&E’s request for reassignment of the judge.

“But I should not have responded to PG&E’s inappropriate inquiry and will not do so if something like this ever happens again. The Administrative Law Judge ultimately assigned to the Gas Transmission and Storage proceeding is very experienced in these matters and his integrity is above reproach, so I am confident the public will be well served,” Florio wrote.

Wong, who Cherry said he preferred in the emails, remains assigned to the case.

San Bruno city officials have alleged a corrupt relationship between the CPUC and PG&E and have long called for Peevey’s removal from the commission.

A separate batch of emails released in July showed PG&E officials discussing matters with Peevey’s office directly related to the San Bruno explosion, including a potential $2 billion fine.

PG&E reviewed more than 65,000 emails in response to the allegations, which led to today’s announcements, company officials said.

Scott Morris, Bay City News

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