Federal Lawsuit On San Onofre Nuclear Waste

Federal judges on Tuesday declined to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the distribution of costs for the premature closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), saying state regulators have not shown the case is moot.

San Diego attorney Michael Aguirre filed the case on behalf of the Citizens Oversight consumer group.

The decision means that new settlement talks scheduled to begin Friday will take place with the federal case still pending.

Opponents argue that a settlement deal assigning customers to pay $3.3 billion out of $4.7 billion in premature shutdown costs was skewed by improper backchannel dealings between regulators and utility executives.

The California Public Utilities Commission last May agreed to reopen the settlement deal. Lawyers for the commission and majority plant owner Southern California Edison unsuccessfully argued in court papers earlier this month that the federal lawsuit contesting the settlement should therefore be dismissed.

In 2014, the utilities commission approved the settlement agreement for costs of the 2012 failure of the plant north of Oceanside.

Both the commission and Edison wanted the federal case dismissed.

What the court has decided is that federal jurisdiction can stay until it can see how the PUC process is resolved.

The Utility Reform Network or TURN, one of the two consumer groups that negotiated the first settlement, believes the 9th Circuit action sends a strong message to regulators, Edison and minority plant owner San Diego Gas & Electric Co.  Edison and SDG&E are now on notice that the failure to make significant concessions could lead to review and scrutiny by the federal courts.

The negotiations begin Friday in San Francisco. Another meeting is tentatively scheduled in February and the settlement is supposed to be completed by April.

Oral arguments in the federal appellate case are scheduled Feb. 9 in Pasadena. They could be postponed until a new deal is hammered out between Edison and other parties in the commission proceeding. (The San Diego Union Tribune, 1/24/2017)