SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California's chief utility regulator, under fire over accusations of secret dealings with the state's largest utility, said Thursday he will not seek reappointment when his term ends at the end of the year.
California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey made the announcement after a state lawmaker said he would bring legislation to block Peevey's reappointment to a third term. Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill applauded Peevey's decision, saying it was "more than just a great first step."
"We can stop fighting and start rebuilding the commission," he said.
Peevey was under fire in connection with a series of emails describing alleged backroom dealings between him and others at the commission and California's biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
In emails released by PG&E on Monday, a company official said Peevey pressed him for more than $1 million in campaign donations and other funds during a 2010 dinner. Then-PG&E Vice President Brian Cherry said he and Peevey also discussed at least five PG&E regulatory matters before the commission.
The emails are the latest in a series released by the utility and others that allegedly show PG&E executives privately negotiating with California Public Utilities Commission officials.
The company has said prosecutors have informed the utility that federal authorities are investigating the legality of five years of back-channel communications between it and the utility commission. The U.S. attorney's office said it would have no comment.
Officials from the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno — among the sharpest critics of both PG&E and its regulators since a 2010 PG&E gas line blast killed eight people in the city — said the emails showed a cozy relationship between the regulators and PG&E. The company is facing federal criminal charges in connection with the explosion.
Peevey said in a statement that "twelve years as President is enough," though he did not elaborate. He said the governor would make a decision about his successor.
A call to Gov. Jerry Brown's office was not immediately returned. Brown expressed support for Peevey in August, but neither he nor Peevey has commented on the actions described in the emails.
Peevey's predecessor said he should leave office — or be removed — immediately.
"It's clear that there is inappropriate activity between Peevey and the utilities," said Loretta Lynch, the former commission chief. "Why is he voting on anything that benefits the regulated entities that he has shaken down for money?"
A public watchdog group, The Utility Reform Network, also called for Peevey to resign immediately.
Peevey was appointed president of the commission by Gov. Gray Davis in December 2002 in the wake of California's energy crisis. He had previously served as president of energy company Edison International and its subsidiary, Southern California Edison, according to his biography on the commission's website. He is married to Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu.
In December 2008, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reappointed him for another six-year term, the biography says.
The utilities commission has said it initiated a third-party review of its communications with regulators.
PG&E's legal counsel has described the back-channel contacts in the emails as rare events rather than standard practice and stressed that the utility let go the three executives it believed were responsible.