Second CPUC commissioner recuses on PG&E

California Public Utilities Commissioner Mike Florio announced Wednesday he would recuse himself from proceedings involving PG&E after coming under fire for communications with PG&E staff seeking to influence the commission’s choice of judge in CPUC hearings.

Florio is the second of the five-member commission to recuse himself from such proceedings. CPUC President Michael Peevey suspended his involvement in the cases last month because of similar communications between his office and PG&E.

Faced with calls for his resignation, Peevey announced last week he would not seek reappointment to his position at the end of his year. According to his announcement, Florio will no longer participate in proceedings investigating the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion or further hearings on PG&E gas rates:

“Questions have been raised about the integrity of the process in both of these matters. … In the San Bruno cases the City of San Bruno has requested such action, and I will honor that request.”

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane praised Florio’s decision today, but called for his immediate resignation from the commission:

“Only Florio’s removal from the commission will protect the public from a pattern of collusion – and possible corruption – now documented in multiple emails between the CPUC decision makers and PG&E staff.”

The emails between Florio and former PG&E vice president of regulatory relations Brian Cherry were released by PG&E last month.

Cherry contacted Florio objecting to the appointment of Judge Douglas Long to hearings on whether PG&E could raise gas rates. Florio wrote back:

“If I were you I would bump him — you really can’t do any worse! Even a brand new ALJ would at least work hard and try — you’ll get neither from him… Keep me posted and I’ll do what I can on this end.”

He said that he took no action after that but that he should not have responded to Cherry’s inappropriate request. Eventually PG&E’s preferred judge, John Wong, was assigned to the case.

Florio again addressed the emails today, saying:

“despite the fact that I wanted only to assure that one of our best judges would be assigned to the proceeding, in light of the dialogue I engaged in with PG&E on that matter, I will recuse myself there as well.”

When the emails were released last month, PG&E announced that Cherry, along with senior vice president of regulatory affairs Thomas Bottorff and vice president of regulatory proceedings and rates Trina Horner, were no longer employed by the utility.

Peevey’s chief of staff Carol Brown was also removed from her post over the emails, but remains employed by the CPUC.

PG&E has acknowledged that the off-the-record communications broke CPUC rules and utility officials have said they expect a punishment. The case is currently being considered by a CPUC administrative law judge.

CPUC staff does not appear to have broken any existing CPUC rules in the email exchanges, but amid accusations of an inappropriate relationship with PG&E, commission executive director Paul Clanon announced a change in policy requiring CPUC staff to submit a record of communications with regulated entities that will be available for public review.

The emails came from a review of 65,000 emails by PG&E. While only selected portions of the emails have been released, San Bruno and the The Utility Reform Network have demanded that they release all the emails for public review.