Michael Peevey

Michael Peevey is former president of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Dan Morain
Editorial page editor, political affairs columnist and editorial writer
May 2, 2015

Michael Peevey is no Ron Calderon.

Peevey never would think to take $3,000 in cash to cover some kid’s tuition payment, as the feds say former state Sen. Calderon did. Nor would he ask a supposed studio executive, who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, to hire a relative.

And he never would accept some quid for a public policy quo. Peevey isn’t some two-bit politician who shakes down businessmen in exchange for votes. He’s much more refined and operates on a much higher level, for the good of us all.

In December, when Peevey stepped down as president of the California Public Utilities Commission after serving 12 years under three governors, environmentalists lauded him for his great public service. Gov. Jerry Brown still praises his old friend, despite the unpleasantness of the investigations into his conduct.

This past week, Southern California Edison filed documents with the Public Utilities Commission detailing how Peevey tried to persuade Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to donate $25 million to fund the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA. If I didn’t know better, I could have concluded Peevey was a bully, maybe even an extortionist.

Yes, Peevey seemed to tie the “donation” to a pending commission decision about how to apportion the $4.8 billion cost of shuttering the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which had been leaking radiation. But clearly, he had society’s best interest at heart.

The California Center for Sustainable Communities promised to use the money to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a noble goal, especially because San Onofre, like all nukes, produced no greenhouse gas, unlike the natural gas-fired plants that have replaced it. That’s the kind of guy Peevey is, always on the lookout for the environment.

There was the time in 2010, when he told a PG&E executive over a dinner that included two bottles of fine pinot that the utility he regulated needed to donate “at least $1 million” to defeat Proposition 23, an initiative that would have gutted California’s law to reduce greenhouse gases.

“I asked for clarification and he said ‘at least’ doesn’t mean $1 million, it means a lot more,” the executive, Brian Cherry, wrote in a May 2010 email to his bosses. PG&E got diverted by the natural gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno and gave $500,000 to defeat the initiative.

No one would mistake Peevey for Calderon. U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. of Los Angeles alleged last year that Calderon “took the bribes in return for official acts.” That’s crass. In its filing last week, Edison cited “multiple occasions” in which Peevey “demanded that SCE make a charitable contribution to UCLA for greenhouse gas research.”

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