PG&E, California's largest utility, may have violated state rules by negotiating with state regulators this year to have a judge that PG&E preferred appointed to decide one of the utility's rate cases, an administrative judge with the California Public Utilities Commission said in a notice to PG&E.
Hallie Yacknin, an administrative law judge with the CPUC, in an order late Wednesday directed PG&E officials to appear before her Oct. 7 to address whether the utility should be held in contempt of commission rules barring that kind of communication between the utility and the commission that regulates it.
PG&E faces unspecified financial penalties if found in contempt for the lobbying effort, Yacknin wrote in the order, without elaborating. Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the utility, said Thursday that PG&E officials were reviewing the judge's order.
The developments are the latest in disclosures that critics say show excessively close relations between PG&E, one of the country's largest utilities with $814 million in net profit last year, and government officials charged with regulating it. The disclosures involving the CPUC stem from investigations into a 2010 explosion of a PG&E natural gas pipeline that killed eight people in San Bruno. A National Transportation Safety Board report on the blast cited allegedly lax oversight by the CPUC as a factor in the 2010 disaster.
On Monday, PG&E released a new series of emails from January in which utility executives sought — and obtained — the administrative law judge they wanted in an unrelated rate case. CPUC President Michael Peevey and another commissioner, Michael Florio, also were included in the January email negotiations over the judge selection, the emails released Monday showed
The CPUC said in a statement on Monday that Peevey's chief of staff had resigned over her role in the emails. On Thursday, however, commission spokesman Christopher Chow said Carol A. Brown remained an employee of the commission, and had resigned only as Peevey's chief of staff. Chow said Thursday he could not immediately explain why the commission initially offered a different account of Brown's employment status.