PUC Head Confirmed, Not Confronted

Examples mentioned, never followed up. Questions dangled, but never asked. And no one knows, still, where the money went. That's a short summary of Wednesay's relatively easy confirmation of Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Picker was confirmed by the California Senate Rules Committee in a 5-0 vote. In December, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Picker, who promised transparency and accountability.  He had replaced Michael Peevey, who was run out of office as news emerged of cozy relationships between him and utilities and accusations of improper influence in decision-making. 

Senators mentioned Picker's support of a gas-fired power plant near San Diego as well as his opposition to a net-neutrality plan adopted by the Obama administration. The CPUC’s sign off on the  $4.7 billion settlement to close the San Onofre nuclear power plant was also briefly touched on. But senators did no follow up with questions or demanded answers on any of this issues. The deal between Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric saw most of the cost falling on ratepayers. A California Fair Political Practices Commission into where of tens of thousands of dollars Picker solicited for a tribute dinner honoring Peevey went was only brought up in the public comment section of the hearing. Picker has reportedly declined publically to say where the money went. 

In addition, on Wednesday, Picker hand delivered some documents to Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, the chair of the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce, who has repeatedly asked for the CPUC to turn over documents into back-channel communications between utilities and CPUC regulators. 

A judge ruled recently that SCE and the CPUC violated ex parte communications rules. Administrative Judge Melanie M. Darling said the utility’s officials engaged in 10 unreported exchanges between March of 2013 and June 2014, several of which were between Peevey and SCE’s then-Executive Vice President of External Relations, Stephen Pickett. A third man who attended the meetings between Pickett and Peevey has given statements contradicting Peevey on what was spoken about. SCE may have to pay up to $34 million for the violations if the decision is upheld. 
The committee did ask for more cooperation and transparency with the Legislature. Sen. Jean Fuller went on at length about a local issue during the hearing but only because, she said, the PUC had ignored her request for information. Picker said it was an oversight on his part and he apologized. He also promised more transparency. Again. 

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