A trove of emails between the Public Utilities Commission and the state’s largest utility was released Friday as state and federal investigations focused on the close and complex relationship between the regulator and company.
The release of about 65,000 emails late Friday afternoon occurred in the same week that state law enforcement officers seized computers and paper records during a search of the La Canada Flintridge home of former PUC President Michael Peevey and the Bay Area home of Brian Cherry, a former top executive at Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
Investigators from the state attorney’s general’s office handled Tuesday’s searches. A separate investigation is being conducted by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco. People who have been contacted by investigators said that the two agencies are working together and appear to be engaged in a wide-ranging inquiry.
The warrant for searching the homes of Peevey and Cherry indicated that investigators are looking for evidence of improper communications with regulators, as well as judge shopping at the PUC, “bribery, obstruction of justice or due administration of laws, favors or preferential treatment.”
Neither Peevey nor Cherry could be reached for comment.
Some of Friday’s newly released emails, dating to 2010, include informal chatting, mostly between PG&E’s Cherry and PUC brass. They also included invitations to lunches and dinners, and exchanges of legal and technical information, as well as questionable discussions about pending enforcement and rate proceedings before the five commissioners. The release was ordered by a PUC administrative law judge.
Activists and PUC critics immediately began reviewing the materials, saying they were looking for evidence of how the utility and the regulator handled the investigation of the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight, pending rate proceedings and the cost of last year’s shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant near San Clemente.
The size of the document cache appeared to overwhelm San Bruno officials and electricity ratepayer advocates. They said they hope to find more evidence of what they called a “too cozy” relationship between the company and PUC commissioners and staff.
“Our attorneys and [information technology] people are going to be working through the weekend” to figure out how to search the material, said San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson. The unwieldy email dump, she said, made her think “there must be something in there they did not want us to see.”
San Diego consumer attorney Mike Aguirre described the PG&E data delivery as “an age-old trick of giving you more than you want.”
Releasing the emails “reflects our sincere commitment to transparency and our own high ethical standards,” said PG&E spokesman Keith Stephens. “Quite frankly, it’s the right thing to do because we agree the CPUC’s business is the people’s business.”
In a statement, PG&E described “the vast majority of the 65,000 communications” as “completely appropriate.” However, the company stressed that it took immediate action, including firing three high-ranking officers, after finding instances in which emails released in the fall appeared to violate PUC rules.