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State senate confirms two utility commissioners

State senate confirms two utility commissioners
State senators on Tuesday confirmed California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker to his post on the regulatory body. (Frank Tapia / California Public Utilities Commission)

State senators on Tuesday confirmed two appointees to the embattled California Public Utilities Commission, including the current president, who is working to reform the agency.

Senators confirmed commission President Michael Picker, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in January 2014. Lawmakers also confirmed Liane Randolph, who was appointed in December 2014.

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The commission oversees non-municipal utilities, including electricity, natural gas, telecommunications and water.

"I am very thankful to the Senate for confirming my appointment and allowing me to continue working with the CPUC's dedicated staff to make the CPUC a modern, accessible, and formidable regulatory agency," Picker said in a prepared statement. "Through open and transparent interaction with the Legislature, consumers, and other stakeholders, we have the opportunity to improve the way that the CPUC operates."

Picker promised reform of the commission after revelations of secret dealings between his predecessor on the commission and two of the state's investor-owned power utilities.

The trouble with regulators' secret talks with utilities was highlighted in an Aug. 5 ruling by state Administrative Law Judge Melanie Darling. She ruled that Southern California Edison representatives engaged in 10 unreported communications with one or more commissioners or their personal advisors.

The communications, she said, related to the payment of costs from the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant.

Darling's ruling, which recommends that Edison pay penalties as high as $34 million, sparked new questions about the San Onofre cost settlement as well as the apparently cozy relationship between the commission and the companies it regulates.

Starting last year, PUC commissioners and officials, including former President Michael Peevey, were criticized for improper communications with executives at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The conversations included how much to fine PG&E for the 2010 explosion of a natural gas transmission line that killed eight people in the Bay Area city of San Bruno.

Thousands of emails also revealed that Peevey, who retired as PUC president at the end of 2014, involved himself personally in internal decision-making at PG&E, extending to matters such as the utility's corporate leadership, public relations strategy, safety policies and rate-setting cases affecting billions of customer dollars.

Before his retirement, Peevey denied wrongdoing and defended his record. He has not been available for comment since. Edison and PG&E also have disputed many of the allegations.

Peevey's involvement with executives of the businesses he regulated has prompted probes by the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco and the California attorney general's office.

Prior to his appointment to the commission, Picker was senior advisor for Renewable Energy in the governor's office from 2009 to 2014. He was a principal at Lincoln Crow Strategic Communications from 2000 to 2009. He also served as deputy treasurer in the state treasurer's office and chief of staff to Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr.

Randolph was a former deputy secretary and general counsel at the California Natural Resources Agency. She also formerly worked as a lawyer in the law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

Twitter: @ivanlpenn

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