It was a little over a week ago – on April 5th – that hundreds of angry rate payers jammed two public hearings on SDG&E’s plan to pass on their costs from the recent fires of 2007 to the public. In addition, charges were made that the officers holding the California Public Utility Commission hearing had conflicts of interest as they were beholden to the utility company.
An estimated 650 people attended the two public hearings held at the Al Bahr Shriner Center, so the East County Magazine reported. And most were opposed, apparently, to SDG&E’s proposed `Wildfire Expense Balancing Account’ (WEBA) plan. By far most who addressed the hearing, spoke against the WEBA plan, ECM observed:
The vast majority spoke against the WEBA plan, which would pave the way for a potential rate hike for not only SDG&E’s uninsured liability costs in the 2007 Witch, Rice and Guejito fires that the CPUC determined it caused, but also for any FUTURE fires.
The packed meetings of this CPUC hearing were before Administrative Law Judge Maribeth Bushey and CPUC Commissioner Timothy Simon. Bushey and Simon listened to testimonies from hundreds of area residents, including numerous victims of the 2007 fires.
In what the ECM calls “the most explosive testimony”, former City Attorney Mike Aguirre declared that the decision on whether to authorize the utility’s plan “is already made” in secret negotiations. Aguirre charged that both Commissioner Simon and Judge Bushey were beholden to SDG&E and had subverted the interests of fire victims and ratepayers.
In his accusations towards the Hearing officials, Aguirre asserted that Simon had been wined and dined by SDG&E executives, and had made a statement praising a report that included the utility’s Wildfire Expense Balancing Account. And then Aguirre – always going for the dramatic – made the crowd gasp when he claimed that the Administrative Law Judge Bushey “is a former SDG&E attorney who never allowed a single deposition of SDG&E executives to be taken.”
ECM reported that Aguirre asked Judge Bushley “Will you allow depositions to be taken so we can get to the bottom of these secret negotiations? You are refusing to be accountable to the people of San Diego.” Here the crowd applauded.
At the end of the ECM article, publisher and writer Miriam Raftery notes that after her original article had appeared, she received conflicting emails from individuals at UCAN – the utility watchdog for San Diego, Utility Consumers Action Network. One was from Michael Shames:
Michael Shames, UCAN executive director, denied that “secret” negotiations took place and said that Bushey has been “consistently amongst the most pro-consumer ALMs at the CPUC.” He further stated, “There’s no done deal and SDG&E will lose.”
The other was from Charles Langley of UCAN:
Charles Langley, Public Advocate for UCAN, had an opposite view from Shames. … He referred to Bushey’s refusal to allow SDG&E executives to be deposed as a “betrayal of ratepayers” and said SDG&E executives are “afraid of being cross-examined.” He noted that “Mr. Aguirre’s point was that Judge Bushey has used her power and influence to protect them from being questioned about their complicity in the fires and the ongoing insurance scams.”
However, our own quick research shows that not all of Judge Bushey’s decisions have been contrary to ratepayers’ interests in other matters up and down the state. For instance, in July 2009, she halted the Monterey-area California American Water from passing on costs of maintaining the Carmel River. Plus, Bushey oversaw the hearings and subsequent sanctions against the utility liable for the San Bruno natural gas line explosion that killed 8 and destroyed over three dozen homes. In what was described as the “most far-reaching order” against the utility, Bushey ruled against Pacific Gas & Electric, stating:
“PG&E needs to rebuild the Commission’s and the public’s trust in the safety of its operations. We understand that the issues at hand implicate substantial expenses and capital investments,” Bushey wrote. These can be debated, she said, but “attempts at legal exculpation have no place in our proceedings to address these urgent issues.” The untested pipelines are “some of the oldest in the natural gas transmission system. Bushey noted.
What Should We Now Do?
The East County Magazine lists several steps that residents can take to ensure that this is not a done deal:
What can be done?
For those who believe it is unjust to place a former SDG&E lawyer and a commission wined and dined on two continents by SDG&E in charge of the fate of ratepayers and fire survivors for the WEBA decision or anything else involving SDG&E, here are steps to take.
1. Use this form to e-mail Governor Jerry Brown and ask that Commissioner Simon and Administrative Law judge Bushey be removed and replaced with consumer advocates, not utility representatives. Tell the Governor it’s wrong to charge ratepayers for fires caused by SDG&E and wrong for a former SDG&E lawyer to block fire victims legal depositions from being taken.
2. Ask California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate the cozy relationships between CPUC representatives and SDG&E to see if laws have been broken.
Public Inquiry Unit
Voice: (916) 322-3360 or
(Toll-free in California)
Fax: (916) 323-5341
3. Write to major media outlets and ask for coverage. Ask how is it that the fates of fire survivors and ratepayers can be in the hands of an ex-SDG&E lawyer who blocked SDG&E from having depositions taken a commissioner who reportedly had private meetings, trips and dinners with utility executives, paid for by SDG&E.
The remainder of Raftery’s excellent article really ought to be read, so go here for the East County Magazine‘s efforts to keep us all informed on these important issues.