As the San Onofre nuclear power plant awaits full dismantling and the on-site burial of 3.6 million pounds of spent fuel rods, an uproar over "transparency" is engulfing the new president of the California Public Utilities Commission.
Among the questions being raised by San Diego attorneys advocating for ratepayers is this: Why has newly installed CPUC President Michael Picker been deleting all of his emails older than 90 days? And would they reveal a pattern and practice that drove his predecessor out of the job?
Michael Picker has vast public-sector and private political experience in Sacramento, starting with Gov. Jerry Brown's first term in the 1970s.
He's become CPUC president since Michael Peevey was accused of influence-peddling in the probe of PG&E 's deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010.
Peevey's indiscretions were exposed in a chain of emails.
Now, Picker has been deleting his own emails older than 90 days.
It's a practice denounced by San Diego critics who call CPUC financial settlements in the San Onofre plant shutdown "a sellout" from the standpoint of ratepayers.
They wonder about Picker's impartiality.
"You know, he says he represents ratepayers,” attorney Maria Severson told reporters at a Monday news conference downtown, “but the reality is, if you truly represent ratepayers, why aren't you transparent in your business dealings?"
CPUC critics say malfunctions that shut down the San Onofre plant, and efforts to settle the liabilities among the plant’s owners -- Southern California Edison and SDG&E -- and the utilities’ customers, were subjects of a private meeting between Picker and Peevey.
Critics also say the commission has ignored public records requests for documents relating to that meeting and what came out it.
They think the agency has been so cozy with the utilities – essentially giving them an uneven playing field against ratepayers -- that they should undergo wholesale ethics reforms.
"The reason that this is so important is that the people of Southern California are going to be paying close to $5 billion for a San Onofre disaster, the failure of the nuclear plant, for the next decade," said former city attorney Mike Aguirre, Seversons’ law partner.
"No more secret settlements,” Aguirre added. “Settlements should be open and openly arrived at."
A CPUC spokesman told NBC 7 that Picker has a 90-day default to avoid email buildups that would shut down his mailbox, and that CPUC's IT team can access the commission's email going back five years.
So will Picker's deletions be released public, and if so, when?
There was no immediate CPUC response to that.