In this Sept. 9, 2010 file photo, a massive fire roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, Calif., after a lethal 2010 gas pipeline explosion that engulfed a suburban San Francisco neighborhood in flames, killing eight people. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
By Jeff McDonald | 7 a.m. Dec. 7, 2015 | Updated, noon
- Governor doesn’t stop at making commission appointments
A new batch of emails released by the City of San Bruno last week show Gov. Jerry Brown supervising his appointees on the California Public Utilities Commission closely.
That interaction could be seen as routine and necessary political oversight, especially now, or it could have deeper implications for Brown given that the agency has been tainted by scandal and is under criminal investigation.
San Bruno officials are arguing for sanctions against Pacific Gas & Electric for improper contact with PUC officials after a pipeline blast killed eight people in that Bay Area city in 2010.
Similar penalties were levied on Thursday against Southern California Edison for its behind-the-scenes discussions with regulators about the failed San Onofre nuclear plant, which closed amid a radiation leak in January 2012.
The proceedings of the utilities commission are supposed to take place in public, although private meetings are allowed if they are disclosed within three days out of fairness to other interested parties.
In addition to regulatory sanctions for failure to report private meetings, state and federal investigators have been probing whether pervasive backchannel communications between regulators and executives crossed the line into criminal conduct.
San Bruno city officials included more than 100 pages of newly obtained internal PG&E emails in a commission filing Tuesday, further indicating cozy dealings between regulators and utility executives.
Afterward, they called for Michel Florio, appointed to the commission by Brown, to resign or be removed due to his close relationships with utility executives he is charged with regulating. Florio recused himself from Thursday’s commission vote to sanction Edison, given his involvement.
The San Bruno emails show Brown working closely with Florio and others involved in the utilities commission response after the San Bruno blast.
One record shows that PG&E — and Brown’s office — knew in advance about a pending statement from Florio and then-commission President Michael Peevey regarding the commission’s consideration of a fine against PG&E for the explosion.
“On another issue, Peevey and Florio are expected to issue a joint press release today stating their intent to work jointly to resolve the pending San Bruno and other investigations,” then-Vice President Thomas Bottorff wrote to PG&E Chairman Anthony Earley. “Peevey will not be ceding control of the (investigation) to Florio. The Governor’s Office is aware of and approved the joint statement.”
Correspondence previously released in the San Bruno case also shows Brown takes a close interest in commission actions, pushing for such trademark Brown priorities as clean energy.
In one 2013 exchange, a PG&E executive refers to the governor by his first name and notes how Brown pressured a commissioner to change his vote.
On Jan. 1, 2013, former PG&E lobbyist Brian Cherry briefed his boss about a New Year’s Eve dinner he attended in the Sea Ranch neighborhood of Sonoma County, where they discussed numerous projects and shared “a dram or two of Johnnie Walker Blue Label.”
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