The People v. CPUC’s Michael Picker

The president of the California Public Utilities Commission secretly meets in a Warsaw hotel room with a Southern California Edison executive and eventually ratepayers wind up paying 70 percent of the $4.7 billion tab to shutter the defective San Onofre nuclear power plant. Does that president sound like Michael Peevey, now under criminal investigation for alleged ex-parte communications, obstruction of justice, and other transgressions? Or might it be Michael Picker, appointed President by Governor Jerry Brown in Peevey's wake?

In a blistering letter just delivered to Assemblyman Mike Gatto, San Diego Attorney Mike Aguirre alleged that substantial evidence points to Picker as a party to the collusion to have ratepayers -- and not shareholders -- pay for a utility's bad decisions.

Here are some of the letter's highlights:

• Picker refused to reopen the much maligned San Onofre settlement despite the abrupt cancellation of an investigation by an administrative law judge into the causes of the San Onfore leak and the absence of a CPUC determination on whether SCE acted reasonably in deploying defective steam generators in the first place.

•Picker, a senior aide to Governor Jerry Brown before his appointment to the CPUC in 2014, was motivated to go along with the collusion, Aguirre argued. Aguirre's reasoning: Picker wanted to show Governor Brown that he supported Peevey, the former head of SCE who enjoyed Brown’s unequivocal backing. Picker would have wanted to go along with the collusion because he wanted to be appointed president of the CPUC -- which he was barely a year into his 2014 appointment as a commissioner.

•Picker was in regular contact and held meetings in 2012 and 2013 with with SCE and CPUC officials, according to Aguirre. Aguirre counts 130 secret San Onofre communications that Picker relied on to make his decisions, including with the Governor's Office. Picker refuses to publicly release them.

But it gets worse.

According to Aguirre, Picker is part of a group of public officials and utility executives, including the president of the Independent System Operator that oversees the state's transmission system, chair of the California Air Resources Board, chair of the California Energy Commission, and Brown business advisor Michael Rossi, who meet in swank, private clubs to call the shots on where California’s energy, such as replacement power for San Onofre, will come from.

Aguirre states that these state officials decided that new natural gas-fired plants could make up for the lost San Onofre power, despite the fact that the decision boosted carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of two million extra cars on California’s roads during the first year. Nothing like helping utilities profiteer while boosting greenhouse gases.

Exacerbating those decisions, Aguirre wrote, the PUC blocked the development of abundant geothermal energy in the Imperial Valley in favor of fossil fuels. It's also abdicated its a authority over SCE's burial of 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste from San Onfre near the San Diego seashore. Nuclear waste belongs in licensed facilities, according to state law. Instead, water will ultimately swamp and spread it.

Aguirre appears to lay out a compelling case that we could call The People v. Picker. That case would expose whose interests the PUC and the Governor really defend, and why they are defending them.

Could any of this have to do with helping rich and powerful industries profit because they are friends of Brown and contributors to his campaigns? Could it have something to do with letting utilities take financial shortcuts for the sake of fatter shareholder profits and executive bonuses? With the need for Commissioners to then cover up their complicity in protecting utilities from the financial consequences of their catastrophic judgment?  All if it comes at the expense of ratepayers who pay for exposure to deadly explosions, gas leaks, and radioactive gases and waste.

It's time for Michael Picker to come under investigation too. Release all emails between the Governor's office, utilities, and the PUC that have nothing to do with the PUC's regulatory function. On the contrary, these emails have everything to do with allegedly secret ex-parte deals to charge ratepayers for boondoggles that aren't their fault, helping friends cut business costs, and allowing those friends to profiteer off fossil fuel projects we don't need when the state's renewable resources are abundant.

It's time for California to protect the public, not the powerful.

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