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Newly Released San Onofre Emails Show Public Business Done In Private With Gov. Brown Advisers

Power lines make their way over a freeway toward the San Onofre nuclear power plant, June 7, 2013.
Associated Press
Power lines make their way over a freeway toward the San Onofre nuclear power plant, June 7, 2013.
Newly Released San Onofre Emails Show Public Business Done In Private With Gov. Brown Advisers
Newly Released San Onofre Emails Show Public Business Done In Private With Gov. Brown Advisers GUEST: Jeff McDonald, investigative reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

This is K.P. midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanagh the private discussions of public energy officials in California are still the subject of scrutiny. A cache of emails between officials about energy policy was recently released by court order. The e-mails disclose the amount of closed door activity going on among agencies like the energy commission. The Air Resources Board the State Water Resources Control Board the independent system operator and political appointees and Governor Brown's administration. State officials say the energy meetings are routine. Critics say the public should have access to the discussions. Joining me is San Diego Union Tribune reporter Jeff MacDonald Jeff welcome to the program. Hello. Now what if anything do these e-mails disclose about policy being developed in these private meetings. Well they're very interesting because the Public Utilities Commission sat on them for three years after they were requested under the Public Records Act by San Diego attorney Michael Geary. He finally went to appellate court which ordered the Utilities Commission to release the e-mails a couple of weeks back and the commission did release the e-mails. Now they show that the top people at each of these five organizations regulatory bodies that dictate policy and enforce regulations across the state that they meet privately among themselves fairly routinely to discuss policy and to implement the governor's programs. Now the reason these are significant is because these commissions are supposed to operate independently from any political influence such as the governor's office which was attending many of the meetings. So if the state officials say that these meetings are routine and are needed to keep all the agencies in the loop why then did it take a court order to release these e-mails Well that's a good question. I would love to have them answer that to me. They they typically respond if they respond at all with a short statement via e-mail and then in both cases for this story neither the governor's office or the utilities commission spokesperson would answer follow up questions. So you know these seem like logical follow up questions but I could not get answers to them. Why was attorney Mike Geary interested in these e-mails. He's interested in the Senate know for a settlement he's been litigating that for some years. The settlement that imposed 3 billion plus in Kloser charges on ratepayers rather than the plant owners. So in his research and his litigation trying to overturn that decision of the utilities commission public records are your best friend when you're trying to litigate an issue or report on an issue. And so getting access to the public records is key. Now the Utilities Commission acts as its own judge. So they rejected his Public Records Act request on the grounds of deliberative process. He took that rejection to a state appellate court which agreed to hear the arguments and then rendered a decision late last month have all the e-mails requested now been released. It doesn't appear that all the e-mails have been released. No. They they turned over about 40. Well hundreds of pages of records but a lot of them were redundant. So but all of the e-mails they did turned over under the appellate court order were from calendar year 2014. Now we already know through other legal proceedings in different courts that they have tons of e-mails from 2013 and 2012 regarding Santa. No Phrae that were not included in the batch of e-mails they turned over to the appellate court. So I'm not sure how Mr. Gary will respond to that. He's got a lot of balls in the air and this obviously is a complicated legal case. But no it's clear from the records in the public domain that the utilities commission is still withholding very significant communications on the San Onofre investigation. Are these private meetings that these e-mails sort of reveal are they a violation of California's Brown Act. The open meetings law. That's another great question. It depends who you ask I think I think you know consumer advocates like Mr. Geary would say of course the public's business needs to be conducted in public. The commission's spokeswoman did tell me in her statement in her one statement that that because there was never a quorum of utilities commission members at the energy principals meetings. That's the group that these five agencies called themselves because there was a lack of a quorum it did not violate any element of the Brown Act although the state law does preclude what are called serial meetings where people get together and meet one after another and make decisions in a row rather than all together. Plus since these are all the chairs the most you know the most senior members of these regulatory bodies the other commissioners and members of said bodies tend to get in line behind what their chairs tell them to do. So it's not clear whether it's a violation of state law but some people certainly think so. I've been speaking with San Diego Union Tribune reporter Geoff McDonald. Jeff thank you. You bet.

The private discussions of public energy officials in California about the now-shuttered San Onofre power plant are still the subject of scrutiny.

A cache of emails between officials about energy policy was recently released by court order. The emails disclose the amount of closed-door activity going on among agencies like the California Energy Commission, the California Air Resources Board, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Independent System Operator and political appointees in Governor Jerry Brown’s administration.

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State officials said the energy meetings are routine. Critics say the public should have access to the discussions.

Jeff McDonald, an investigative reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, reported on the newly released emails. He joins Midday Editon Tuesday to talk about what they might reveal.

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