Public Utilities Commission Stonewalls Attorney General on San Onofre

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
San Onofre Nuclear Power Generating Station (photo: Orange County Register)

On June 5, lawyers for the California Attorney General’s Office served a warrant (pdf) on the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), seeking documents related to a criminal investigation of e-mails between the regulator and utilities that operated the failed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

They are still waiting.

In a June 24 update to Los Angeles County Superior Court on the status of the warrant, Special Agent Reye Diaz wrote, “Unable to obtain evidence at this time. . . . Despite requests, CPUC has still not provided a specific time frame as to when documents will be provided as ordered by the court.”

The CPUC said it was unable to turn over any documents—that’s zero documents—because the agency is too busy fulfilling other requests for documents being made under the California Public Records Act and federal subpoenas. The story didn’t change in Diaz’s August 7 update. “No extension has been requested and no indication has been given as to when the records will be produced,” he wrote.

The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote on Tuesday it asked the CPUC if any documents had been produced after August 7 and didn’t get an answer.

The CPUC is under a lot of pressure to reconsider a November decision to assign around 70% of the $4.7-billion cost of decommissioning San Onofre after e-mails earlier in the year revealed that then-CPUC President Michael Peevey and Edison executive Stephen Pickett met in a Warsaw, Poland, hotel room in March 2013, and sketched out a framework for settlement. Those kind of ex-parte gatherings—outside the presence of others involved in an issue’s resolution—are frowned upon by the law.

A review of thousands of e-mail contacts between Edison and CPUC officials confirmed allegations that the agency was far too cozy with the utilities it regulates. Since the revelations, initially generated during some tangentially-related court proceedings, the CPUC’s own Office of Ratepayer Advocates (ORA) joined The Utilities Reform Network (TURN), another advocacy group that was a party to the settlement, in flipping their support.

Earlier in August, Administrative Judge Melanie M. Darling ruled that Edison illegally used backchannel communications to discuss the San Onofre shutdown with the PUC on 10 occasions.   

San Onofre closed in January 2012 after a leak of radioactive steam was discovered. Subsequent testing found hundreds of eroded steam tubes, damaged by vibration caused by new steam generators. Edison blamed manufacturer Mitsubishi, which blamed computer problems and bad math for the misdesigned equipment.

Edison is suing Mitsubishi for $7.6 billion. There is evidence that both knew the design was problematic. Questions have also been raised about the CPUC’s due diligence in assessing responsibility for San Onofre’s overnight demise and properly documenting its own role in the permit process. 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

CPUC Investigator: “No Records Have Been Produced” (by Ricky Young and Jonah Valdez, San Diego Union-Tribune)

Public Advocate Flips Position, Wants $4.7-Billion San Onofre Deal Reopened (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Judge Says Edison Illegally Talked to PUC about San Onofre—Repeatedly (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Search Warrant (Los Angeles County Superior Court) (pdf)

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