California PUC Used Public Money To Block San Onofre Investigation
Court documents released this week indicate the California Public Utilities Commission used public money to try to block search warrants in an investigation into possible collusion with Southern California Edison over the premature closure of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
It’s another twist in the ongoing legal battle over a settlement that requires ratepayers, rather than investors, to pay the bulk of the cost of the closure of the plant.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge released hundreds of pages of court documents Monday related to investigations by the state Attorney General’s office into how the San Onofre settlement was reached. Under the settlement, ratepayers must cover $3.3 billion, and further investigation was halted into who was to blame for the radiation leak that caused the plant to be permanently shut down in 2013.
Evidence has already emerged that CPUC President Michael Peevey met secretly with SCE executive Stephen Pickett at a hotel in Poland in March 2013, and agreed on the terms of the settlement that was publicly announced in April 2014.
Attorney Maria Severson, who represents a utility customer, says the CPUC agreed to cooperate with the investigations, but the newly released documents show the CPUC repeatedly resisted complying with search warrants.
“The executive director went to the legislature and requested over $6 million on the stated basis that they would cooperate with the search warrants,” Severson said. “These records show that that money was in fact used to block compliance.”
Severson says the judge found “probable cause” to suspect felony conspiracy to obstruct justice when he issued the search warrants.
“If there’s nothing to hide, why would they spend any money fighting it?” Severson asked. “What do those records show, that they are refusing to produce?”
The CPUC issued a statement saying it has “cooperated with the Attorney General's office through every step of the investigation.” It said that “by December of 2015 the Commission had produced approximately 1 million documents in total to the Attorney General.”
The CPUC statement said the Commission has only contested search warrants it believed were obsolete or based on false premises. For example, it disputed one search warrant that referred to the meeting in Poland in 2013: “an affidavit released in support of a search warrant contained factual and legal errors. That affidavit claimed that ex parte communications were prohibited in SONGS OII when in fact they were allowed, so long as they were reported.“
“After the issues were resolved, the CPUC timely complied with the remaining document demands.”
Southern California Edison reported the meeting in Poland only after The San Diego Union-Tribune published a story on the notes from the meeting that took place nearly two years earlier.