Three top vice presidents with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and the chief of staff of California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) President Michael Peevey were all fired Sept. 15 over improper communications between the company and the CPUC.

Though the emails concerned a pending Gas Transmission and Storage rate case, the dispute has become tied up in ongoing litigation over the 2010 explosion of a natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, which killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes.

PG&E confirmed the communications in a statement on Monday, reporting that an internal review of five years of emails between the company and commission officials “identified a number of instances in which PG&E believes it violated the CPUC’s rules governing communications” with the commission. The problematic emails were sent during a three-week period in 2014 and concerned assignment of administrative law judges and commissioners to the pending rate case.

Two CPUC judges recently proposed a record $1.4 billion fine against PG&E for its role in the San Bruno explosion and misconduct during the investigation. PG&E is appealing the decision, which is under consideration by the full commission.

CPUC rules prohibit ex parte communications (those taking place without the knowledge of all parties to the case) on such matters. The PG&E statement called the emails “unprofessional and unacceptable.”

As a result of the investigation, PG&E fired its senior vice president of regulatory affairs, its vice president of regulatory relations, and its vice president of regulatory proceedings and rates. Peevey then asked his chief of staff, Carol Brown, to resign. Peevey also recused himself from further involvement in the San Bruno case.

The dispute began in July when San Bruno officials complained that PG&E had not properly notified the public of various confidential communications with the CPUC. The city has accused PG&E and Peevey—the former president of Southern California Edison—in particular of having too cozy a relationship with commission officials. The city has asked state enforcement agencies to investigate the allegations.

PG&E said in the statement that it is taking a number of other steps in response to the findings, including retaining former Colorado senator and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to help develop a new regulatory compliance process. The CPUC has also launched an internal review of any possible improper communications.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor.