By Miriam Raftery
December 30, 2015 (San Diego) –California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office may file criminal charges against Michael Peevey, former president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), over back-room dealings concerning a settlement deal over the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear facility.
A sworn affidavit by Specia Agent Reye Diaz with the Attorney General’s office in late September and recently unsealed reveals that Diaz found “probable cause to believe” that Peevey and Southern California Edison vice president Stephen Pickett “conspired to obstruct justice” by knowingly engaging in illegal private communications to craft a shut-down deal advantageous to Edison, but disadvantageous to other interested parties.
State law prohibits private, or ex-parte communications between state regulators and utility company representatives. It is a misdemeanor to engage in such communications—but a felony to conspire to do so.
The CPUC approved a settlement that would force ratepayers of Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) to pay about 70 percent of the $4.7 billion closure costs for the nuclear facility operated by the two companies.
Peevey pushed Edison to kick in $25 million to UCLA for research on greenhouse gas emissions as part of the settlement to “wrap this in a cloak” and be “good for public relations,” Edison International President Ted Craver admitted in an interview with Diaz, the state investigator, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Edison spokesperson Maureen Brown has said that a backroom meeting in Warsaw was not illegal, but conceded it should have been reported. She insisted that the San Onofre settlement was “properly negotiated at arms’ length with consumer representatives” and should not be rescinded, the Chronicle indicates.
Search warrants requested by Diaz of text messages and other communications between Pickett and Peevey, along with other Edison and CPUC representatives as well as PUC judges and UCLA think tanks yieled some 1,400 emails that state investigators are currently poring over, according to the Chronicle report.
No charges have been filed to date.
Mindy Spatt with The Utility Reform Network says Peevey’s involvement in approving the settlement was tainted by the backroom meetings, adding, “Corruption flourished during his regime,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Peevey did not return the Chronicle’s request for comments.
Citizens Oversight and the Coalition to Decommission San Onofre have asked the CPUC to hold a rehearing on the San Onofre settlement in light of the illegal communications between Peevey and Edison, though the CPUC failed to respond within the 120 day deadline, Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens Oversight, posted on Facebook.
As for news of the state criminal probe into Peevey’s actions while he headed up the CPUC, Lutz concludes, “It’s about time progress is being made to get to the bottom of this corrupt organization, which is just a front for the investor-owned utilites.”
Lutz, an El Cajon resident, noted that Governor Jerry Brown’s sister serves on the board of Sempra Energy, parent company of SDG&E and that Brown vetoed even “weak reform bills.” He voiced a lack of confidence in the current CPUC chair,Michael Picker, to implement reforms since Picker was formerly Brown’s advisor on the San Onofre issue.
He concluded, “So the fact that the judicial branch is continuing to work on this gives one hope that despite th fact that both the executive branch ane legislative branches are all corrupted, the judicial branch may pull through.”
In addition to the state criminal investigation, a separate federal review of CPUC practices is underway.