AG Harris drawing fire over alleged San Onofre conflict of interest

Kamala+Harris+Governor+Brown+Signs+California+lMtfUp4NkC3lAttorney General Kamala Harris threatens to be drawn into the controversy over the California Public Utilities Commission’s divvying up of the cost of closing the San Onofre nuclear power plant on San Diego County’s north coast.

Activists are furious with the PUC’s 2014 decision to make ratepayers of Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric cover 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost of shuttering the facility, which had severe problems with steam generators that forced its closure. After the decision, it was discovered that the parameters of the deal had been worked out clandestinely in 2013 in a meeting in a Warsaw, Poland, hotel room between an Edison executive and then-PUC President Michael Peevey.

Both the state and federal governments have launched criminal investigations of Peevey over his failure to disclose contacts with utility executives and his alleged attempts to pressure utilities for favors in return for his support on some regulatory decisions.

But while the criminal division of the state Attorney General’s Office is pursuing the criminal probe, the civil division of the office is supporting Gov. Jerry Brown in his fight against disclosing emails between his office, the PUC and utilities during the period decisions were being made about how to pay for the costs of closing San Onofre.

Recent coverage of the case in the San Diego media has featured sharp criticism of Harris’ dual role in dealing with the scandal.

“In this case, for the [attorney general] to investigate the communications with the [California Public Utilities Commission] while representing a potential witness who is a potential subject of the investigation is a conflict,” former San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst told KPBS.

“One of the problems with the conflict is it invites the attorney general to narrow the investigation to avoid the conflict,” former San Diego City Attorney Mark Aguirre told the San Diego public broadcasting affiliate.

“If the investigation into the Public Utilities Commission involves the nuclear power plant, and that is something that’s the subject of the governor’s emails they are trying to keep secret, then I think there is a conflict,” Georgetown University law professor Paul F. Rothstein told the Union-Tribune. “The Attorney General’s Office should probably turn over one or the other of these cases to an independent counsel.”

“Government works best when it shines light on problems, not seeks to keep the public in the dark,” University of San Diego law professor Shaun Martin told the newspaper, criticizing Harris for helping efforts to keep public records from being released to the media.

‘Ethical firewall’ said to separate AG branches

Harris’ aides deny there is any conflict and depict their actions in working with the governor on email requests as routine:

A Harris spokesman said there’s an ethical firewall between the attorney general’s civil division representing the governor’s office and its criminal section responsible for the investigation into the California Public Utilities Commission and the state’s energy companies.

That’s from KPBS’ coverage.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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