New Twist in Records Battle Over Nuclear Plant Closing
By NICK CAHILL
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Approaching four years since the multibillion-dollar shuttering of a radiation-leaking nuclear plant in Southern California, a state appeals court compounded frustrations over the hushed affair Wednesday with its ruling against an attorney looking for answers.
Michael Aguirre has been in private practice for decades but cut his teeth after law school as an assistant U.S. attorney and later assistant counsel to the U.S. Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations.
For the last two years, Aguirre has been on the hunt for state records about the closing of the San Onofre nuclear power plant after it leaked radiation in 2012.
In a petition to the San Francisco Superior Court, Aguirre says plant owner Southern California Edison conspired with regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission to insulate the utility from liability over the plant.
On the heels of a secret meeting that took place in Warsaw, Poland, ratepayers were saddled with most of the plant’s $4 billion closing costs.
The meeting ultimately forced the resignation of the commission’s president at the time, Michael Peevey, and the commission slapped Edison last year with a $16 million fine for covering up the meeting between its executive and Peevey.
Aguirre has accused Edison of destroying records relating to the shuttered power plant and gone as far to question Gov. Jerry Brown’s knowledge of the back-door closing deal. His request demands any written communications between the commission and Brown’s office regarding the closure.
“The stakes for the [commission’s] decision makers and affiliates are high, and the pressure to not turn over the writings sought is great,” Aguirre’s complaint states.
A Superior Court judge initially sided with Aguirre, overruling the commission’s demurrer, but the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco reversed that decision Wednesday.
The holding deals a blow to Aguirre but is very limited in its relief to the state — saying only that the Public Records Act claims have original appellate jurisdiction.
“Our limited holding does not exempt the commission from the requirements of the PRA, or limit Aguirre from seeking judicial relief to enforce his rights under the PRA,” Justice Marla Miller wrote for a three-judge panel. “He simply may not seek that relief at the superior court.”
Miller acknowledged that the issue is a novel one.
“We are aware of no published cases that have addressed the precise issue before us,” the 16-page ruling states.
The panel ordered the superior court to vacate its ruling and sustain the demurrer without leave to amend.
Aguirre’s office did not answer a call after hours Thursday seeking comment, but he is expected to appeal to the state Supreme Court.