Commissioner Florio Recuses Himself from PG&E Cases

By Published On: October 17, 2014

A California Public Utilities Commission member Oct. 16 recused himself from further participation in proceedings aimed at investigating Pacific Gas & Electric’s 2010 gas line explosion in San Bruno and revising the utility’s rates for transmitting and storing natural gas. Commissioner Mike Florio issued the recusal notice after the utility publicly revealed a series of email communications with him and others at the commission regarding which administrative law judge should hear the rate case. The emails violated both the commission’s ex parte communications policy—since they were not immediately divulged to stakeholders in the rate case—as well as a prohibition on “judge shopping.” “After careful reflection,” stated Florio in his notice, “I have decided that it is in the best interests of the commission—and more importantly of the public we serve—to recuse myself from further participation in both the three San Bruno-related investigations and the PG&E gas transmission and storage rate case.” Florio said he was withdrawing from participation in the investigations at the request of San Bruno. There, a gas line explosion killed eight people and leveled a residential neighborhood. Regarding the rate case, Florio wrote that “despite the fact that I wanted only to assure that one of our best judges would be assigned to the proceeding, in light of the dialogue I engaged in with PG&E on that matter, I will recuse myself there as well.” In the emails, Florio wrote to former PG&E vice president Brian Cherry Jan. 17, “I’m horrified” about the assignment of administrative law judge Douglas Long to the case. He told Cherry, “Keep me posted and I’ll do what I can on this end.” PG&E has admitted that it violated ex parte communications rules and participated in judge shopping. It faces a potential penalty of $1.05 million by the commission, plus a ban on many communications for one year. After the improper communications involving Florio, commission president Mike Peevey, and Peevey’s chief of staff broke into public view, PG&E let Cherry go, and sacked other top executives. Peevey’s chief of staff was demoted. In addition, Peevey last week announced he did not plan to seek reappointment to the commission after his term expires at the end of the year.

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