Governor Jerry Brown today (December 23) named two new commissioners to the scandal-ridden California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Long-time Sacramento public relations pro Michael Picker, who was named a commissioner in January of this year, will take over the presidency, now held by Michael Peevey, who is embroiled in controversy over the regulator's attempt to get a low-ball penalty for Pacific Gas & Electric, whose negligence caused the 2010 San Bruno explosion. A number of released emails have shown that Peevey, commissioner Mike Florio, and Peevey's one-time assistant worked sub rosa to help PG&E, which has fired executives who played footsie with CPUC officials and then sent the damning messages by email.
Before joining the commission, Picker was an advisor on renewable energy in the governor's office for five years. He was also a principal at public relations and campaign consulting firms in Sacramento. "He was Brown's right hand man," says San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre, who has battled the CPUC on two major issues. "This is more of the same: he is a big political fundraiser and big labor guy." Aguirre pointed out that Picker voted for the so-called compromise in which ratepayers will be billed $3.7 billion for the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant, when, he believes, the shareholders should pick up the entire tab, because the accident was a result of mismanagement. "Picker voted for a plan that unfairly burdened ratepayers on San Onofre," says Aguirre, who believes Picker will be a clone of Peevey.
"Brown has decided to make no fundamental changes — sticking with [Commissioner] Mike Florio, who should have resigned. It becomes clearer that the CPUC is a reflection of the governor and not an agency that protects the welfare of the ratepayers," says Aguirre. Picker's appointment requires state senate confirmation.
The other appointment as commissioner is Liane Randolph. She has served in several positions at the California Natural Resources Agency since 2011, serving as deputy secretary and general counsel. The Sierra Club put out a statement lauding Randolph: "The Sierra Club supports this nomination and is hopeful that her appointment will help bring forward the reforms necessary to cleaning up the commission." The nomination "comes on the heels of recently-released emails highlighting the wholly inappropriate relationship between the agency and the utilities it is charged with regulating. Emails released this week show...Peevey colluding with PG&E to build multiple dirty and outrageously expensive power plants."