Picker and Peevey — two Michaels…two objectives?
At a meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today (January 15), the new president, Michael Picker, acknowledged that the agency has had ethical problems and pledged reform.
Picker conceded that there "is uncertainty both in the public and inside the commission whether we are fair and even-handed in our actions. The most obvious examples are a series of emails that show easy access to CPUC decision makers by utilities and other interested parties. They are troubling and very painful to read."
There are both state and federal investigations of these practices, and the CPUC is cooperating, he said, conceding that "we may not be ensuring equal access to our decisions and to our decision makers for everyone." The regulator has hired an outside expert to review practices the CPUC should adopt.
Picker said that the agency is releasing 65,000 emails between the CPUC and Pacific Gas & Electric. (It has already been shown conclusively that several CPUC officials, including Picker's predecessor Michael Peevey, were working to help PG&E get a light fine for its role in the 2010 San Bruno blast that leveled a neighborhood and killed eight people.)
Picker also mentioned the emails between Peevey and Southern California Edison that the CPUC provided to San Diego law firm Aguirre & Severson, showing Peevey's worse-than-cozy relationship with the company of which he was formerly president (although Picker didn't name the law firm and didn't concede the close relationship that the emails revealed).
However, Picker said he is most worried about "the slow erosion of our safety programs over the years." He added, "While I don't minimize the importance of breaches in observing ex parte communications," it's the organizational questions that "deserve our urgent attention."
Said Picker, "We'll also develop a commissioner code of conduct that we'll all sign and that also covers many of the concerns about recent ex parte communications with regulated utilities." But he didn't say that administrative law judges and other CPUC officials would sign such a document.
Picker also said that he had asked governor Jerry Brown to make him president of the commission. The trouble with this statement is that Picker had to make it; it was softly and sometimes euphemistically worded.
Picker is a former public relations, lobbying, and political fundraising executive. Mike Aguirre of Aguirre & Severson says that any corporation that uncovered such wrongdoing inside its ranks would have instituted sterner measures. Picker has made "a PR statement that has no real effect. It looks like he feels he can PR himself to a resolution."