Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for a dozen years, who retired at the end of 2014, kept up a steady, cozy email dialogue with officials of Southern California Edison while he was in office. Indeed, copies of those emails show that Edison was asking for Peevey's alleged wisdom on a number of questions — particularly, how to handle public relations problems. Such communication is generally considered improper.
Peevey had been president of Edison and its parent for less than three years, leaving in 1993 when he was in his mid 50s. He then joined a public relations firm, which Edison hired. He was named to head the CPUC in 2002, when utilities complained to then-governor Gray Davis that the then-president, Loretta Lynch, was too kind to consumers and too rough on utilities. Since then, Peevey has made sure that the California publicly held utilities rack up fat profits at the expense of consumers. Customers of Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and Pacific Gas & Electric pay rates that are far higher than almost all other electric utilities in the United States.
On May 14 of last year, San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre was complaining about the deal by which ratepayers will be stuck with $3.3 billion in charges as a result of the closing of the San Onofre nuclear plant, of which Edison is the primary owner. (San Diego Gas & Electric has a smaller percentage.) In a now famous confrontation, Aguirre asked Peevey if he had consulted Edison officials about the $3.3 billion gift to utilities. In an outburst that immediately went viral on the web, Peevey growled, "I'm not here to answer your goddamn questions. Now shut up! Shut up!"
Now we know why Peevey blew his stack. He had been giving advice sub rosa to officials at his former company — definitely inappropriate and improper. Aguirre's law partner, Maria Severson, filed a California Public Records Act request for copies of communications between Peevey and his Edison chums. After a delay of more than three months — and Severson's threat to file a lawsuit to force compliance — she got an initial batch on Saturday, January 3.
The Peevey/Edison relationship is snug indeed. Example: Ron Litzinger, executive vice president of Edison's parent, "has Peevey's cell number and they talk on weekends," says Severson.
A Los Angeles Times writer had penned a critical column about Edison and San Onofre. Janet Clayton, Edison's senior vice president of communications, wrote a response to be published in the paper. It would be in Litzinger's name. "You might want to give the CPUC president [Peevey] a heads up," Clayton wrote to Litzinger. He called Peevey for advice on how to handle the situation. Litzinger and Peevey had a phone conversation about responding to the Times article. Shortly, Litzinger emailed Peevey, gushing, "Thanks for your insights today on the call — very helpful."
On another occasion, Les Starck, senior vice president of regulatory policy and affairs, consulted Peevey on a complaint from a customer who had the misfortune of living very close to an Edison tower. Edison penned a curt reply that was sent to Peevey before it went out. Peevey called it "a brush-off…. Showing some compassion and compensation in individual cases may be the better approach." Asking the president of the CPUC how to respond to a customer complaint is picayune-plus.
Much of Peevey's communication was with Bruce Foster, then a senior vice president of Southern California Edison. He had sent Peevey a document on 2010 tax changes and asked him to put the matter on hold. Peevey read the document and put the matter on hold for two weeks.
Edison officials had quick access to Peevey. In February of 2011, Foster was down in the lobby with some colleagues. He flashed Peevey, "If you are free would like to talk to you. We are in the lobby." Peevey replied, "Can you make it only the two of us?" Peevey would meet with Edison officials on short notice — even in London. One time Foster emailed Peevey: "We are at the bar at the Westin if you are staying come by." Another time, Peevey said he would skip a lunch with other commissioners so he could dine with an Edison lobbyist. In most cases, Edison brass addressed Peevey as "Mike" — not the formal "Commissioner Peevey."
And so the often-sycophantic emails continued. Says Severson, "Edison sends filings and press relations to the commisssioners directly, and sends a separate one to Peevey. Lunches and dinners galore — in posh restaurants, private clubs, and luxury destinations on three continents. Peevey gives advice on how to handle claims [and] promises to hold proceedings at Edison's request."