MIchael Florio

Michel Peter Florio

By Jaxon Van Derbeken
May 2, 2015
Updated: May 2, 2015 – 11:39pm

A California Public Utilities Commission member who was present when the agency’s president pressured Southern California utilities to funnel $25 million to a pet cause last year played a pivotal role in keeping the lobbying secret, according to the account of a top utility executive.

Commissioner Mike Florio — who drew criticism last year for his willingness to intervene on behalf of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in a rate-setting case — twice sat in on meetings in 2014 in which then-commission President Michael Peevey lobbied Southern California Edison executives over the shutdown of the troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant, the executive said. Edison co-owns the plant with San Diego Gas and Electric Co.

Edison Energy President Ron Litzinger said in a sworn affidavit released last week that Peevey had cajoled the utilities during both meetings to give $25 million toward greenhouse gas research at UCLA. Neither session was made public until now, although commission rules state that high-level contacts between utilities and the regulators who oversee them typically must be disclosed.

Just after Litzinger met with Peevey and Florio on May 14, 2014, at the agency’s San Francisco headquarters, he answered questions during a commission hearing about the San Onofre settlement. He said he had never secretly communicated directly with commissioners, but that the company often communicated one-on-one and had been making proper notifications. Florio, who was at the meeting, said nothing, hearing transcripts show.

Second meeting

It wasn’t the first such back-channel meeting between Edison executives and Peevey and Florio, Litzinger said: They also conferred May 2, when Peevey first urged the utilities to honor an earlier commitment he said they had made and contribute toward greenhouse gas research.

In a subsequent phone call, Florio told Litzinger not to disclose that the two sides had met, saying he was passing along instructions from Peevey’s chief of staff, Litzinger said.

Florio, who did not return calls seeking comment, spent 30 years as an attorney with the consumer advocate group The Utility Reform Network before Gov. Jerry Brown named him to the commission in 2011. E-mails released last year revealed that he had offered to help PG&E get its preferred judge for a rate-setting case, and some critics said the latest accusations indicate he’s strayed far from his roots.

“He apparently didn’t even express concerns about what was happening — that is the saddest thing of all,” said Ed Howard, a University of San Diego expert on regulatory enforcement.

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