Emails sent in late 2010 and early 2011 show that collaboration between Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) was unusually close, considering that regulators are expected to keep arms-length relationships with the companies they oversee.

Even a random sampling of only 40 or 50 of the emails reveals the close relationship, principally between former PG&E regulatory executive Brian Cherry and the CPUC’s then-Executive Director, Paul Clanon.

In some emails, Clanon asked Cherry to explain the facts behind local news media reports that were negative to PG&E and the CPUC following the September 2010 natural gas transmission pipeline rupture in San Bruno, CA. In some instances, the communication was almost hourly between the utility executive and Clanon or other key CPUC staff members.

The emails show that CPUC sought input from PG&E before sending its official response to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations. Those close relationships are the subject of investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco and the California Attorney General’s Office (see Daily GPI, Feb. 2).

The Los Angeles Times continues to review some of the 65,000 emails that PG&E turned over to the CPUC earlier this year, reporting Saturday that following NTSB’s reaction to the fatal San Bruno pipeline rupture, the CPUC was put in the role of having to place the utility’s feet to the fire. But in preparing to do that, high-ranking CPUC staff worked closely with PG&E executives on a mutually satisfactory approach.

News media, local and state officials and consumer advocate groups have been dogging PG&E and the CPUC for months, even before PG&E reported the first batch of inflammatory emails six months ago (see Daily GPI, Sept. 16, 2014). Cherry and two other PG&E executives were fired over the initial results of the utility’s internal investigation, and Clanon retired at age 55 at the end of last year (see Daily GPI, Dec. 19, 2014).

The chorus of critics is growing as more reports emerge on the five years of emails between the regulators and the utility, pulling in the San Francisco-based consumer group The Utility Reform Network (TURN), for which one of the current CPUC commissioners, Make Florio, worked as a consumer attorney. Florio has been in the middle of some of the email controversies and has publicly apologized for his actions (see Daily GPI, June 10, 2013).

A spokesperson for the CPUC told NGI recently that no date for action on the penalties has been set by the revamped commission.