A months-long dispute over details of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station’s closure has set the chair of a California Assembly committee overseeing utilities against the California Public Utilities Commission.
With the CPUC already under intense scrutiny following revelations of back-channel communications with utilities that helped force out the regulator’s past president, advocates and policymakers have turned their attention to a $4.7 billion settlement to close the San Onofre plant. The PUC signed off on the deal between Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric, with much of the cost falling on ratepayers.
Critics have raised the notion of more collusion between the utilities and the commission tasked with regulating them, a theory fortified by a judge ruling this week that Southern California Edison and the CPUC improperly communicated.
Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, chair of the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce, has been an especially vocal critic. In a March letter to CPUC president Michael Picker, Rendon urged Picker to compel the utilities to release more documents about the San Onofre deal, calling it crucial to lifting the “dark clouds of the SONGS settlement” and dispelling “the specter of process manipulation.”
The response has not satisfied Rendon. He and Picker have since been trading letters, with Rendon accusing the CPUC of footdragging.
Pushing back, Picker has argued that the requested emails could be confidential, in one letter warning about “personal criminal liability for CPUC staff making an improper disclosure.” He notes that “two different prosecuting agencies have opened three different investigations” and warns about impeding those efforts.
In an August 5 letter, Rendon again chastised Picker for failing to produce more documents about the settlement on the CPUC’s server. He has also criticized the CPUC for not disclosing the record on which Picker based his San Onofre decision.
Picker responded by saying he would be interfering with an administrative law judge and commissioner who are reviewing which Southern California Edison emails might be released, arguing that it “would be inappropriate for me to interfere in an ongoing investigation.”
“I am sorry that I continue to disappoint you in your request for emails you would like me to obtain,” Picker wrote. “I hope you understand that my inability to satisfy your request is not a test of wills, but of my conscience.”