New Judge In San Onofre Case Has Past Experience With San Diego Utility Issues

Monday, February 8, 2016
By Amita Sharma

A state regulatory judge — newly assigned to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station case — has a history with San Diego.

Critics say that past doesn’t bode well for consumers.

Maribeth Bushey recently replaced Melanie Darling as the administrative law judge overseeing the San Onofre case at the California Public Utilities Commission.

Bushey will likely hear arguments filed by San Diego consumer attorney Mike Aguirre asking the CPUC to overturn a $4.7 billion settlement that bills customers for 70 percent of San Onofre’s shutdown costs. Aguirre has argued the settlement is illegitimate because its framework was hatched in secret in Poland between regulators and an Edison executive.

Aguirre called Bushey and her predecessor, Darling, two judges with “the same approach.”

Darling’s retirement capped a controversial tenure.

She secretly communicated with a Southern California Edison manager about crucial evidence while she presided over an inquiry into what went wrong at San Onofre following a 2012 radiation leak. Darling later excluded that evidence.

Bushey presided over a case involving San Diego Gas & Electric’s effort to make customers pay for expenses insurance companies wouldn’t cover after the 2007 wildfires. SDG&E lines ignited those fires.

Bushey initially ruled against the utility, calling the request “unprecedented and extraordinary.” But then she allowed the utility to enter secret settlement talks. Aguirre said Bushey also kept out relevant evidence in that case. Ultimately, commissioners rejected SDG&E’s proposal, following customer protests.

The utility is again asking state regulators for permission to charge customers nearly $380 million for costs linked to the 2007 wildfires.

Bushey did not respond to a request for an interview.

Edison declined comment on Bushey’s appointment to the San Onofre case.

Aguirre said Bushey’s assignment to San Onofre contains a message from beleaguered state regulators.

“They’re literally putting someone in there that is a clear signal that we’re not going to change,” Aguirre said.

There is widespread discontent with the CPUC over its handling of the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, the San Onofre settlement and the Aliso Canyon gas leak. Last week, lawmakers called for the regulatory body to be dismantled.