Michael Peevey presided over his last commission meeting Thursday after serving two six-year terms as president of an agency that has been rocked by scandal in recent years.
In his farewell address, Peevey outlined the accomplishments during his reign, including reducing carbon emissions and instituting an aggressive energy policy.
"I think California is a better place than it was 12 years ago," Peevey said.
After quoting President Obama and poet Robert Frost, Peevey concluded the meeting with these parting words: "I surrender.”
For two hours, nearly two-dozen people thanked Peevey for more than a decade of public service. Speakers included current and former colleagues, energy policy leaders and representatives of former California governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Many lauded Peevey for being a great leader and general. Several compared Peevey to President Franklin Roosevelt and the Pope. Two speakers thanked Peevey "on behalf of their grandkids" for his forward-thinking energy and climate policies.
"This is a great loss to our state and to our nation," said former commissioner Timothy Alan Simon, who worked alongside Peevey for six years starting in 2007. "God bless you, President Peevey.”
The farewell congratulations came amid heavy scrutiny from a wide range of critics who believe Peevey and his agency are too cozy with regulated utility companies. They have criticized him for failing to properly regulate Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) prior to and following the San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight people and injured dozens more in 2010.
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They have also questioned his decisions such as accepting $165,000 in free travel from special interest groups funded by utility companies and blowing off a request from state senators to testify about the CPUC last year in favor of attending a conference at an exclusive Napa winery.
A series of scandals has plagued Peevey in recent years, and the United States Attorney and the state Attorney General are investigating him for questionable meetings with top PG&E executives. The center of the investigation is an internal company email which details how Peevey asked PG&E to contribute more than $1 million to a CPUC anniversary celebration and a political cause Peevey supported.
"That shows you need to be acted on by the Attorney General and punished for your actions," labor union representative Steve Zeltzer said during the public comment session. "You belong in jail."
In an interview with NBC Bay Area in October, Peevey's predecessor Loretta Lynch said Peevey leaves behind a legacy of secrecy, disregard for the law and cooption by utility companies.
“When you’re too cozy, you’re coopted and you’re corrupted by the utilities as a public official. It feeds into that narrative in the most destructive way,” Lynch said. “And that is the legacy that Mike Peevey has left at the PUC.”
She penned an opinion piece about Peevey in the San Francisco Chronicle the day after his last commission meeting.
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Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) has called for Peevey’s removal as commission president for several years. Before Thursday’s meeting he introduced a CPUC reform bill on the steps of the agency's San Francisco headquarters. The legislation would end loopholes that allow regulated utilities to influence CPUC commissioners outside of the public eye.
“Now we can try to build the PUC back to what it was designed to be and what its intended mission is and that’s public safety and safe utilities at a reasonable rate,” Hill said in an interview in October. “That’s their mission and they got sidestepped from that.”
San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane called the corruption of the CPUC "unconscionable." Before Thursday’s commission meeting, city leaders once again called on new leadership at the CPUC to restore justice and integrity to the agency.
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The Utility Reform Network (TURN) also wants to see independent leadership at the CPUC that will protect consumers.
"For the last 12 years, the commission's president has done the opposite, protecting utilities from their customers and protecting shareholders and executives from being accountable," TURN executive director Mark Toney said in a statement. "Goodbye and good riddance."
Paul Clanon, the CPUC’s executive director attended his last commission meeting Thursday, as well. He publicly announced his resignation after 30 years at the commission and seven as executive director. He joins the general counsel and safety director, who also resigned earlier this year.
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