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Another CA Natural Gas Price Lawsuit Re-Emerges

The state Superior Court judge hearing the ongoing class action lawsuit against Sempra Energy and its two utilities will convene a separate hearing Tuesday with attorneys trying to settle a lawsuit filed by California's Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in the wake of the 2000-2001 western wholesale energy market meltdown.

Other plaintiff attorneys in the outstanding lawsuits alleging wholesale natural gas price manipulation during the crisis are trying to get the Bustamante lawsuit joined with the case in San Diego, rather than settled.

An attorney for the Bustamante has proposed a $20 million settlement with four remaining natural gas suppliers -- Reliant Energy, Duke Energy, Dynegy and Williams Cos. -- including a provision that each company contribute to a $200,000 endowment of a new academic chair in Bustamante's name at one of the University of California campuses. Attorneys in the other pending cases oppose the settlement, calling it a "sweetheart deal" that will undermine the other legal actions that are pending, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Three years ago, Bustamante, acting as a private citizen, sued 38 natural gas traders and others, alleging they tried to push up wholesale fuel prices, which in turn drove up the skyrocketing cost of wholesale electricity. Accusing the companies of "shameless profiteering," the lieutenant governor talked about billions of dollars of refunds.

Since that time the lawsuit has been narrowed considerably and only pertains to the four remaining companies, all of which are poised to accept the $20 million deal, according to the LA Times' report.

Thus, Tuesday Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager will hear arguments from both sides on whether the Bustamante lawsuit should be consolidated with the much larger class action lawsuit in the San Diego court. The original filing by the lieutenant governor was made in a Los Angeles Superior Court.

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