El Paso Asks Judge to Quash Subpoena

Times Staff Writer

El Paso Corp. asked a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission judge Wednesday to quash a subpoena seeking recorded trader conversations in California's search for evidence of market manipulation during the energy crisis of 2000-01.

Among the documents sought by state officials are recordings of 140 telephone conversations among El Paso employees "in which plans to provide false data to trade publications are discussed," according to the subpoena. A former El Paso trader was indicted last month for allegedly reporting fictitious natural gas transactions to an industry publication.

Trade publications compile price indexes of natural gas trades that FERC used to help determine the price of electricity -- much of which is generated from natural gas -- in California during the energy crisis and its aftermath.

The Houston-based energy company previously said it would comply with the subpoena issued Friday by FERC Judge H. Peter Young.

In its motion, however, the corporation argued that it is not a party to the proceeding in which California is seeking $9 billion in refunds of alleged electricity overcharges. In addition, El Paso said, the information the state wants was submitted on a confidential basis to FERC's staff probe into market manipulation, and FERC cited that confidentiality when it refused to give state officials access to the data.

What's more, most of the data sought is for natural gas delivered outside of California, El Paso said.

Tom Dresslar, a spokesman of California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, said state officials "hope to show that the whole refund formula needs to be revamped because it is based on manipulated data."

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