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Public relations — er, utilities commission chief speaks

Is Michael Picker more interested in smoothing over corruption?

Picker and Peevey — two Michaels…two objectives?
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."

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Picker and Peevey — two Michaels…two objectives?
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."

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RAY LUTZ FILES TO GET OVERSIGHT OF $4.4 BILLION UTILITIES WILL SPEND ON DECOMMISSIONING SAN ONOFRE. Ray Lutz of San Diego-based Citizens' Oversight filed a legal request with the CPUC today (January 15) asking for legal oversight of the $4.4 billion Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric plan to spend on the decommissioning of the San Onofre nuclear facility, now shut down. Lutz noted that the $4.4 billion is in trust funds with "almost no one providing careful oversight." Lutz says that "the typical school construction bond of only $100 million requires that an independent citizens oversight committee review the spending in detail." The project is 44 times larger, and will only get "a cursory after-the-fact review by the commission, which tends to accept whatever [it] is told by the utilities."

San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre believes one area that should be looked at is the company that has been hired to store the nuclear waste from San Onofre. The company is Holtec International of New Jersey. It has been hired to place the used fuel inventory of the two retired San Onofre reactors into dry storage. Among other things, in 2007, a former Tennessee Valley Authority manager pleaded guilty to failing to disclose money he had received from contractors. The man managed a nuclear plant. Prosecutors said he and his ex-wife owned a company that did business with Holtec, which had been hired by TVA to build a storage for spent nuclear fuel rods. The manager did not report $54,000 in money received from Holtec. Holtec has also been a major contributor to political war chests.

Jan. 15, 2015

Aguirre is doing his usual posturing, but Picker issued what may be an unprecedented confession of wrongdoing at the PUC.

As for "sterner measures," well the revelation of "federal and state investigations, in which we are fully cooperating" indicates that outsiders with clout may have something to say about how Mr. Peevey did business. California Attorney General Kamala Harris wants to be a US Senator and if she approaches this Peevey affair with due diligence there's a nothing like a good political corruption case to help the public learn your name.

Jan. 15, 2015

Bob_Hudson: I certainly hope that Picker's statement is an unprecedented confession of wrongdoing at the CPUC. And it would be great if Harris puts stress on the Peevey era corruption, and then uses it to get elected to the United States Senate. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 15, 2015

Thanks again Don, the biggest question remains, why did Brown appoint Picker when he has no qualifications to be President of the CPUC at all?

One has to wonder if Brown has been Governor for far too long and has lost his ability to lead California anymore when he just keeps making the CPUC and utilities threats to the people of California.

Brown shares as much responsibility for the San Bruno deaths as Peevey and PG&E and we reelected him anyway because there was no acceptable candidate running against him.

Brown and both political parties have definitely lead California into the Fall phase of our Decline and Fall while the drought just keeps getting worse without any leadership.

Jan. 16, 2015

Anon92107: Brown typifies a monopoly. He has a lock on the office, and can do whatever he wants to do. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 16, 2015

"The trouble with this statement is that Picker had to make it; it was softly and sometimes euphemistically worded."

Even a three-year-old knows that denial only goes so far when you've been caught several times with his hand in the cookie-jar.

Jan. 16, 2015

Twister: Sexist! By using the word "his," you suggest that only boys get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. We had two boys, no girls, so can't speak from experience. But I have spoken with mothers of girls who report that even the girls try to pilfer cookies. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 17, 2015

Guilty! And I'd do it again . . . Every girl needs a brother upon whom to lay the blame. Anyway, your evidence is heresay. Or is it heresy?

Jan. 27, 2015

The CPUC is a totally corrupt organization and should be disbanded and restructured to represent the people of California.

Jan. 17, 2015

AlexClarke: The emails have shown that CPUC is totally corrupt. I agree. But I think we would be more successful talking about reform of the existing CPUC than suggesting that it be disbanded and rebuilt from the bottom up. Best, Don Bauder

Jan. 17, 2015

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