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Watchdog Makes Emails From California Utility Officials Public

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Photo credit: Associated Press

A massive fire roars through a neighborhood in San Bruno, Sept. 9, 2010.

A searchable website contains more than 100,000 emails and other records that detail the California Public Utilities Commission's dealings with state utility companies over issues such as the shutdown of San Onofre.

Damning documents chronicling the alleged misdeeds of regulators responsible for overseeing California’s utilities can now be found on one website.

A screenshot of the website

Los Angeles-based Consumer Watchdog created the online portal. It holds more than 100,000 emails and other documents dubbed the “PUC Papers” outlining the California Public Utilities Commission’s dealings with the state’s powerful energy companies, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office and Wall Street. The nonprofit reports that the goal behind making the material easily accessible to the public is to spark reform.

“We launched the PUC Papers to allow the public, reporters and policymakers to mine it for connections and corruption that have yet to be uncovered,” said Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court. “This is our citizen science project and we are asking concerned citizens to use it like a telescope to pinpoint corruption in energy regulation in the state and report it.”

The Consumer Watchdog organization focuses on energy reforms, as well as insurance, health care and other sectors that affect consumers.

Asked for a comment on the creation of the website by Consumer Watchdog, PUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the emails are the thousands the commission posted online to comply with public records requests.

Accusations that the PUC has favored the state’s big energy companies over consumers have dogged the public regulator across the state.

Federal and state investigators opened criminal investigations into the commission’s handling of the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people. Emails showed secret communications about the explosion between pipeline owner Pacific Gas & Electric and former PUC President Michael Peevey. They also revealed close ties between the former regulator and PG&E.

Photo credit: Associated Press

A steady flow of traffic on Interstate 5 in northern San Diego County, June 30, 2011.

Peevey is also under investigation for his back-door communications with Southern California Edison executives following the 2012 radioactive leak at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station that shut the plant down. Peevey met secretly with an Edison executive in Poland where they created a framework for a settlement that eventually left customers with a $3.3 billion bill for the plant’s closure.

The PUC decided last month to take another look at that pact.

Questions have also surfaced about whether the PUC could have prevented the Aliso Canyon well leak that released thousands of tons of natural gas into the air and forced thousands to flee their homes in Los Angeles County.

San Diego-based Sempra Energy, parent company of SDG&E, also owns the underground well that was sealed earlier this year.

The leak was the final straw for Assemblyman Mike Gatto. He has called for the PUC to break apart, and its tasks to be divided and assigned to other agencies.


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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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