Paul Sakuma/2010 AP file photoA massive fire caused by a gas pipeline rupture roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno on Sept. 9

Paul Sakuma/2010 AP file photoA massive fire caused by a gas pipeline rupture roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno on Sept. 9

PG&E officials removed for improper communications

Four senior officials with PG&E and the state commission regulating it were removed or resigned over emails released Monday showing the utility and state regulators appeared to negotiate which judge would be assigned to hear one of the utility's rate cases.

California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey, who was included in part of the January email exchange, removed himself from involvement in that rate case and in another, bigger case pending before the utility commission involving PG&E, which is California's largest utility.

Monday's measures deepen the growing controversy surrounding the state utilities commission's oversight of the utility in the aftermath of a 2010 explosion of a PG&E natural-gas pipeline that killed eight people in San Bruno.

In July, other emails released at the request of San Bruno city officials showed Peevey and his staffers consulting with the utility on matters including how big PG&E's fine should be in the blast. The commission's decision on that fine is pending.

On Monday, PG&E released a January email exchange featuring Brian Cherry, PG&E's vice president for regulatory relations, asking repeatedly for Peevey's chief of staff, Carol A. Brown, to change the administrative law judge who was assigned to hear an unrelated rate case involving PG&E.

“I can see if anything can be done,” Brown answers in the email. “Take a deep breath — I am working on it,” she wrote in another.

Cherry separately emailed Peevey, the commission's chief, on PG&E's desire for a change of judges in the rate case. “This is a problem. Hope Carol can fix it,” Cherry wrote. There was no record of a response from Peevey to that email.

PG&E released the emails following what it said was its own internal investigation of alleged improper communications between the utility and state regulators.

PG&E said Monday that Cherry and two other senior officials ended their employment with the utility as a result of the emails released Monday.

Brown, the CPUC official in the email exchange, resigned, the utility commission said in a separate statement.

Andrew Kotch, a spokesman for the CPUC, said he could not immediately answer why Peevey did not appear to act on the email exchange at the time he received the email from the PG&E official asking for the change of judges.

Kotch said he would forward a request by The Associated Press to speak to Peevey and Brown about the allegations.

Bay Area NewsPeninsulaPG&Epipeline explosionSan Bruno

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