California State Senator Jerry Hill, Others Demand Investigation Into California Public Utilities Commission

There is no mincing words in the matter: California State Senator Jerry Hill is demanding the state’s top law enforcement official open a criminal investigation into the California Public Utilities Commission.

Sen. Hill said Friday it’s time Attorney General Kamala Harris put the state regulatory agency under the same scrutiny as PG&E in the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion after emails released by the utility this week revealed questionable correspondence between its own employees and CPUC liaisons.

“The evidence is very clear this week that communication between PG&E executives and high-level executives, as well as commissioners of the PUC, show what we believe is criminal behavior,” Hill said.

On Friday morning, inside a room in the state building, Hill, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane signed a letter asking for Harris to start an investigation into the CPUC.

“There’s $50 billion of ratepayer money annually that filters through the CPUC to the utilities in California,” Hill said. “There’s telecommunications, other gas and electrics. We’ve just seen what happened with PG&E. My feeling is this has probably happened with every utility. That’s what needs to be investigated.”

“We didn’t wait for someone else to take action,” PG&E spokesperson Keith Stephens said in a statement. “We took responsibility by self-reporting this violation, we held individuals accountable, and we took swift and immediate actions to ensure this conduct will never happen again.”

The call for action comes in the wake of PG&E firing three employees earlier this week for email conversations with CPUC officials that discussed assigning administrative law judges to rate-setting cases who would be more sympathetic to PG&E's case.

CPUC President Michael Peevey's chief of staff, Carol Brown, resigned for her part in the email exchanges, though CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio, who communicated with PG&E over judge assignment, remains in his post.

In July, the city of San Bruno obtained emails between the CPUC and PG&E through legal action in which CPUC officials advised PG&E on how to handle legal issues and potential fines stemming from the gas pipeline explosion.

"If this isn't collusion, I don't know what is," Mullin said. "The CPUC has been in dereliction of its most essential duty: to protect the public."

"The emails show a blatant disregard for the law by PUC commissioners and management," Hill said.

The PG&E pipeline explosion in San Bruno was in the worst utilities accident in California in decades. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation faulted what it said was negligence by PG&E and lax oversight by the utilities commission.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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