Want Ad: Seeking Administrative Law Judge Who Has Not Had Ex Parte Communications With Utility Execs

Is there a single person left who is involved with the California Public Utilities Commission that hasn’t had ex parte communications with utility executives that they regulate? It doesn’t look like it from the release of yet another bunch of emails about the San Onofre nuclear power plant’s decommissioning.
Turns out that the Administrative Law Judge presiding over whether to set aside the settlement and reopen the San Onofre nuclear power plant investigation consulted an SCE executive on what the utility thinks.
According to released hand-written notes by SCE executive Russell Worden, ALJ Melanie Darling asked him, “does SCE think the record needs to be re-opened?” The answer that he gave was, “Emphatically, NO.” 
SCE says these documents are strictly “procedural,” and thus neither “inappropriate” nor “reportable ex parte communications.” Not reportable, my foot.
It’s this kind of stuff that would have been harder to get away with if Governor Jerry Brown hadn’t vetoed six bills reforming the PUC by, among other things, more narrowly defining what is a “procedural” communication and what isn’t.
Brown didn’t sign the bills because utilities want a waiver from open government laws like Bagley-Keene first. If that happened, we wouldn’t even see batches of such emails anymore.
Judge Melanie Darling should have called consumer advocates like me to ask for opinions if she was calling Russell Worden for his. Damn straight, we think the deal in which San Onofre owners SoCal Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric are putting billions for decommissioning a failed nuclear plant onto ratepayers should be reversed. Let SCE pick up the whole $4.7 billion tab and let their shareholders take a bath. 
The idea that 70 percent of that cost would go onto the backs of millions of ratepayers whose lives were threatened because of a utility's faulty generators is jaw-dropping. The secret deal in a Warsaw hotel room cooking up this idea of sticking ratepayers with the tab between former PUC Chair and former president of SCE Michael Peevey and an executive vice president from his Alma Mater, stinks. 
The only people left in the dark on all this are the public. Earlier this year, the law firm Strumwasser & Woocher released an independent report reviewing ex parte communications between utility lobbyists and executives and the PUC’s decision makers and staff. The report found such meetings, “frequent, pervasive, and at least sometimes outcome-determinative.” 
The report determined that such backchannel communications are “fundamentally unfair” because they remove the public’s business from the public and make it almost impossible for interested parties to counteract what’s decided behind closed doors in time to make a difference. 
The fix? That’s easy. If an ALJ is talking to an SCE executive, that's wrong and is not allowed under the current rules. Not just these communcations but all ex parte communciations between a decision maker and only some of the parties to that decision should be banned. Make the penalty for breaking that rule sufficiently tough to discourage cheating. Then, we’re even-Steven. And pretty soon we’ll have people at the PUC who make decisions based on the merits and not because the companies with all the money and political connections have their ear.

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