For a dozen years, Michael Peevey has occupied one of the most powerful seats in California. As president of the Public Utilities Commission, he has the power to control the companies that bill consumers for electricity, gas and water.
His legacy includes presiding over the CPUC during the deadly San Bruno explosion in 2010 and accepting a safety award just months after the agency was accused of failing to properly regulate Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that those mistakes contributed to the disaster that killed eight people and injured dozens more.
Peevey’s legacy also includes a leaked internal survey in 2013 when his employees accused the agency of an overly cozy relationship with utility companies. Last year Peevey decided to dodge requests from senators to answer questions at the state capitol, opting instead to attend a conference at an exclusive Napa winery with utility representatives among other invitees.
“Michael Peevey’s legacy is a degradation of a principled man who did a lot of good in his life,” said consumer advocate Harry Snyder. “He became holier than thou he could do no wrong.”
Snyder lectures at UC Berkeley and recently criticized Peevey and Governor Jerry Brown in an opinion column in the Sacramento Bee.
“Michael Peevey should have resigned a long time ago,” Snyder said.
During his tenure as CPUC president, Peevey accepted more than $165,000 in free travel from nonprofit groups, many of which received funding from the utility companies the CPUC regulates.
Now, Peevey finds himself in the middle of a scandal, and under investigation by the United States Attorney and the state Attorney General for questionable meetings with top PG&E executives. An internal PG&E email serves as the center of the investigation because it details how Peevey asked PG&E to contribute more than $1 million to a CPUC anniversary celebration and a political cause Peevey supported.
“You don’t say things like that unless you think you are above the law,” Snyder said. “You don’t write something like that unless you think you are above the law. So these men think they are above the law. Michael Peevey is going to be the shadow that follows Jerry Brown everywhere.”
Whether Brown should have removed Peevey as president of the commission remains a lingering question as Peevey prepares to close the door on a dozen years directing the California Public Utilities Commission. Just days after inappropriate emails between PG&E and the CPUC became public, PG&E fired three top executives. In contrast, Brown allowed Peevey to finish his term in the president’s seat.
“It’s bologna, its self-serving excuses for doing the wrong thing,” Snyder said. “And Jerry Brown is not serving the people of the state of California. Not serving the people of San Bruno but serving, his own political interests. It’s just unacceptable.”
The governor’s office has declined multiple requests for an interview about why he did not ask Peevey to relinquish his position as CPUC president. Brown told the Associated Press that the emails were “troubling” and that he wanted to wait for the results of the federal and state investigations.
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