Senior California Utility Regulator Claims She's Being Ousted for Whistleblowing

Alice Stebbins, executive director of the CPUC, speaks at a wildfire summit in 2019. Stebbins claims she's being forced out of a job for 'trying to clean up a broken CPUC.' (CaliforniaPUC/YouTube)

A high-ranking official at the California agency that regulates utility companies including PG&E claims she's being forced out of her job for seeking to recover $200 million in fees that the agency did not collect over nearly 20 years.

Alice Stebbins, executive director of the California Public Utilities Commission, said in a letter to the five commissioners who govern the agency that she was being retaliated against for trying to "clean up a broken CPUC," the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

Stebbins is the top administrative official at the commission, which regulates businesses that provide electricity, gas, water, phone and transportation services in California.

She said she was placed on administrative leave and told by CPUC President Marybel Batjer she may be ousted because of ethical concerns over several hires that she allowed.

CPUC President Marybel Batjer listens as PG&E executives speak at an emergency meeting in San Francisco on Oct. 18, 2019.
CPUC President Marybel Batjer listens as PG&E executives speak at an emergency meeting in San Francisco on Oct. 18, 2019. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

The commissioners were expected to consider Stebbins' dismissal at a meeting Thursday, her attorney Karl Olson said.

The letter by Olson acknowledged a state report that was critical of "a half-dozen hires" among hundreds of state government employees hired during her tenure. But it contends her pursuit of the unpaid fees play a bigger role in the matter.

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Stebbins said when staff told her about the unpaid fees after reviewing a state report, she raised the issue to the commissioners but they hardly reacted.

"The fox should not be guarding the henhouse and, to put it simply, it appears to us that the threatened termination of Ms. Stebbins' employment results not from anything she or her staff did wrong but because they were trying to hold regulated entities accountable," the letter said.

A spokeswoman for the CPUC declined to comment because of the pending litigation and because it is a personnel matter.

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The San Francisco-based commission has for many years come under scrutiny for being ineffective and too cozy with sectors it's supposed to regulate.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Batjer president of the commission to shake up management after the CPUC was criticized for failing to properly enforce a 2016 law requiring utility companies like PG&E to have a wildfire action plan.

In May, the CPUC approved PG&E's $58 billion plan for getting out of bankruptcy despite ongoing worries about the utility's ability to safely operate its crumbling electrical grid.

The governor's office has not responded to a request for comment.