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Long-Time California Regulator Leaves Amid Praise, Condemnation

Before a standing-room-only crowd heaped praise on California's outgoing chief regulator, Michael Peevey, two of his staunchest critics held a press conference outside the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) building Thursday in San Francisco, blasting Peevey and calling for legislative reforms at the CPUC that he headed for an unprecedented 12 years.

With the still unfolding scandal involving emails between Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and the CPUC still simmering (see Daily GPI, Dec. 18), state Sen. Jerry Hill and San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane called for support for Hill's recently introduced bill (SB 48) that would strip the CPUC president's power to direct its executive director and staff.

Ruane also called for PG&E to make public all 65,000 emails it has reviewed to determine if there was a pattern of improper communications between the San Francisco-based utility's executives and Peevey, other CPUC commissioners and staff. The regulatory commission generally, and Peevey in particular, have been under scrutiny since  PG&E first made the emails public in September (see Daily GPI, Sept. 16) and since the deadly gas transmission pipeline failure in a San Bruno residential neighborhood four years ago.

Hill's proposed bill would give all five CPUC governor-appointed commissioners equal powers in running the regulatory agency, and it would require the San Francisco-based commission to meet six times annually in Sacramento, the state capital. Peevey, a former top executive at Southern California Edison Co., has served as CPUC president under three different governors.

Utility watchdog group The Utility Reform Network (TURN) said Peevey's departure was long overdue, and it called for the appointment of "a new independent leader" at the agency. "Since President Peevey began his tenure at the commission 12 years ago, TURN has repeatedly criticized his bias toward utility companies," a TURN spokesperson said.

TURN Executive Director Mark Toney called the San Bruno pipeline explosion "Peevey's defining event," saying it was "avoidable" and caused not only by PG&E mismanagement but by "the laxity that characterized Peevey's presidency."

Inside the CPUC business meeting room, scores of former regulators, staff, industry, financial, community and retired elected officials praised Peevey for his stewardship, particularly his emphasis on climate change and utility supplier diversity programs.

Newly re-elected Gov. Jerry Brown has given no indication when he will name a replacement for Peevey whose term expires a year-end.

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