SAN BRUNO -- PG&E and the state Public Utilities Commission, engulfed in controversy over inappropriate email exchanges and how they are handling the aftermath of the fatal explosion in San Bruno, announced the ouster of several officials amid accusations the two organizations have a cozy relationship.
In addition, PUC President Michael Peevey, under fire for his helping to foster what some critics call a lax culture of regulatory oversight at the powerful state agency, has recused himself from two key cases related to PG&E's natural gas operations, including a decision on potential fines for PG&E regarding the San Bruno blast.
A view of ground zero of the gas explosion is seen from Fairmont Drive and Concord Way on Friday, Sept. 10, 2010 in San Bruno, Calif. 38 homes were
A view of ground zero of the gas explosion is seen from Fairmont Drive and Concord Way on Friday, Sept. 10, 2010 in San Bruno, Calif. 38 homes were destroyed after a gas line exploded in the residential Crestmoor neighborhood of San Bruno on Sept. 9. (Jane Tyska/Staff) (JANE TYSKA)
San Francisco-based PG&E announced it has dismissed senior vice president of regulatory affairs Tom Bottroff, vice president of regulatory relations Brian Cherry and vice president of regulatory proceedings and rates Trina Horner.
In addition, Peevey's chief of staff, Carol Brown, has agreed to resign, effective immediately, the PUC announced.
"I feel that my voluntary recusal should ensure the public's confidence in the credibility and objectivity of the CPUC's decisions," PUC president and commissioner Peevey said in a prepared release.
The PUC described the email exchanges between key executives at PG&E and top officials at the PUC as inappropriate.
The executive director of the PUC was ordered to conduct a review of the agency's internal procedures to ensure inappropriate communications don't occur in the futurue. The PUC will use an outside expert to assist in the review.
"I want to assure those practicing before us, the many stakeholders to our proceedings, and the public that this will not happen again," PUC Commissioner Michael Florio said in a prepared release.
In one email exchange, regarding state Sen. Jerry Hill, whose district includes San Bruno, PG&E executives indicated they were irked when Hill, as a member of the state Assembly in 2011 and 2012, raised safety concerns about PG&E increasing pressure on multiple gas pipelines, and about Peevey's role in the matter.
"Just wanted to give you some notice that we'd be replying to Hill," the PUC's top staff member, Executive Director Paul Clanon, wrote to PG&E regulatory executive Cherry. Cherry later wrote to Clanon: "Let's just say I have no respect left for Mr. Hill." PG&E apologized this year about Cherry's comments.
"As a company, we must be committed to complying with both the letter and the spirit of the law and PG&E's own code of conduct at all times. No excuses." PG&E Chief Executive Officer Anthony Earley wrote in an open letter to the company's employees on Monday. "That is, and must be, the standard for our behavior individually and as a company."
PG&E said that it has hired Ken Salazar as a special counsel. Salazar, a former U.S. Senator and cabinet secretary, will help the utility improve its regulatory compliance efforts. The utility also appointed Steve Malnight as senior vice president of regualtory relations. In addition, the company is creating a new position of chief regulatory compliance officer to oversee compliance with all requirements that govern PG&E's interactions with the PUC.
In an April 2013 email, Carol Brown, chief of staff for Commissioner Peevey, wrote to PG&E executive Laura Doll and offered advice about how to handle one of the proceedings related to the San Bruno explosion. In the email, Brown said she had talked to one of the PUC administrative law judges about the matter.
"Send back a sweet note" to the PUC about the matter "and then wait for them to throw a fit" was part of Brown's advice. Brown also said she was "happy to chat" about the matter with PG&E to help guide company officials through the PUC process.
Doll replied to Brown, "Love you. Thanks."
Contact George Avalos at 408-859-5167. Follow him at Twitter.com/georgeavalos.