NBC Bay Area has learned that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has turned over emails showing that one commissioner urged the utility to balk during secret settlement talks over the San Bruno pipeline blast.
“The content of the emails is truly alarming,” said San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson about emails the company released Thursday, long after assuring the public that it had disclosed any improper contacts with state regulators.
Two of the newly disclosed emails date back to January 2013. At the time, the utility was in secret negotiations with San Bruno officials over penalties in the gas explosion that left eight people dead.
One of the emails is redacted, but it details advice the utility purportedly got from then Commissioner Catherine Sandoval.
Now a professor at Santa Clara law school, Sandoval did not respond to a call for comment for this story.
But according to the account in the Jan. 10, 2013 e-mail by then PG&E vice president of regulatory relations, Brian Cherry, Sandoval boasted about knowing the positions of both sides and even urged the utility to tell San Bruno to “take a hike -- because no one is going to (redacted) without convincing evidence by the other side.”
Another e-mail, sent the day before, details how then president of the commission, Michael Peevey, grumbled about how the agency was handling the talks.
Over lunch with a PG&E consultant, Susan Kennedy, who had previously served as chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Peevey purportedly said he hoped that his newly installed safety chief “can bring something home – but that the crazies are so far out there it may not be possible.”
Peevey, Kennedy’s email says, “blamed most of the craziness on the locals in (San Bruno) and his personal prosecutor, Jerry Hill.”
A deal, Peevey suggested to Kennedy according to her email, was “unlikely but not completely off the table.”
In the end, the utility had to pay $1.6 billion in fines and penalties.
Through it all, state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) wonders whether the utility has learned its lesson.
“These are pretty damning and damaging,’’ he said of the latest emails, adding that he is concerned about the three year delay in their release.
“When this happens, you don’t know can you still trust them, can you trust them,” Hill said. “What else is out there? That really begs the question, what else are they not showing us still?”
The disclosure of the latest emails comes as the utility agreed this week to a nearly $100 million settlement for improper contact with regulators over a five year period.
PG&E said in a regulatory filing that the emails are similar to ones it’s already being punished for. It says they were only recently found during another search requested by an unspecified government agency.
“It feels like it’s never going to ever, ever end,” said Jackson, the city manager for San Bruno.
“At some point,’’ she said, “there has to be a conclusion and the California Public Utilities Commission has to make sure that the rules are clear, the rules are enforced and this doesn’t happen again.”