The California Public Utilities Commission is in a lot of hot water. On Tuesday, the CPUC announced that it selected Former Senator George Mitchell as mediator in the ongoing talks to determine the fine to be levied against Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The trouble is, only PG&E knew of Mitchell’s appointment and no one else, and Mitchell’s law firm, DLA Piper, has a number of utility clients. The move places the CPUC in the position of looking like it’s trying to engineer a low fine for California’s utility giant.
San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane and other California utility ratepayer advocates today delivered a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission. This is what it says:
Statement of City of San Bruno on the Announcement of CPUC’s unilateral selection of a mediator to decide PG&E fine for deadly San Bruno explosion and fire that claimed lives of 8 people and destroyed 38 homes in the San Bruno community.
“The unilateral announcement by the CPUC yesterday that it had selected a mediator without consulting any of the parties at the negotiating table is consistent with the cozy and unholy relationship between the CPUC and PG&E. This action is symbolic of the broken, dysfunctional and dishonest relationship between PG&E and the CPUC, the agency that is supposed to be the watchdog and protector of the public’s interest.
“San Bruno is rightly concerned that the DLA Piper law firm has previously represented utilities–and that the firm was selected unilaterally by the CPUC and PG&E without the participation of any other party, which goes against the fundamental principles of mediation.
“It also is of deep concern to us that DLA Piper has a lengthy list of corporate clients, including Southern California Edison, which the current chairman of the CPUC, Michael Peevey, once headed, according to news media reports about the appointment.
“In order for any mediation to succeed, the mediator will have to assure all the parties to our satisfaction that they have no conflicts, that they can be an unbiased mediator, and that the process will be open, transparent and fair.
“We find that there is too much of a coincidence that one week before the announcement of DLA Piper as mediator, we were told that “a mediator with gravitas” is necessary to settle the negotiations, and now, with the unilateral start of mediation, that PG&E shareholders are paying for the mediation. This leads us, we rightly believe, to the conclusion that the CPUC and PG&E have had improper ex-parte contact as part of this process.
“We state unequivocally for the record that no fine or settlement with PG&E will ever be legitimate or credible without the participation of the City of San Bruno.
“We call into question the integrity of the entire CPUC process that has occurred over the past two years since our community was ripped apart by the negligent and systematic safety failures of PG&E and the inability of the CPUC to independently protect and represent the interests of the residents of San Bruno and the people of California.
“The healing process has physical manifestations in the reconstruction of our Crestmoor neighborhood. However, the scars and horrors of the explosion and fire remain. The City committed to its citizens that it would be an active and relentless participant in all of the investigations that followed.
“We remain at the table to represent the interests of the citizens of San Bruno, the memory of those whose lives were taken by PG&E’s negligence, their families and friends, and equally important, every other city, town and community in the State of California so we can help others prevent what happened to us.”
Statement of the City of San Bruno.