SACRAMENTO — Enron Corp. agreed Thursday to release company documents to a Senate committee investigating possible price manipulation, ending the committee’s quest to cite the energy company for contempt for not complying with a subpoena.
The Senate Rules Committee heard arguments from Enron and the Senate Select Committee to Investigate Price Manipulation of the Wholesale Energy Market over whether the energy company should be found in contempt.
In June, the select committee subpoenaed Enron files as part of its investigation into record-high prices in the state’s wholesale electricity market. Enron sued to quash the subpoena, a motion a judge rejected.
The judge agreed, however, that Enron was entitled to a protective order for documents revealing sensitive trading and financial information.
Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, chairman of the select committee, said late Thursday that Enron agreed to the same confidentiality agreement accepted by several other generators. With that agreement, Dunn said, the committee would withdraw a report that recommended Enron be found in contempt.
He said he expects documents to be transferred immediately.
Dunn had argued the subpoena also covered nonconfidential documents, and since the energy company also refused to release those papers to the committee, it was in contempt.
He asked Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, chairman of the rules committee, to approve fines against Enron for each day they didn’t comply with the subpoena. The daily fines would start at $1,000, doubling each day for 10 days. Then the company would be fined $1 million a day.
Enron lawyer Michael Kirby said the company had put 49,000 nonconfidential documents in a depository in Sacramento so committee investigators could review them.
But Dennis Murphy, a lawyer for the select committee, said Enron didn’t tell investigators where the depository was located. The committee discovered the address in documents filed by Enron for the court case, he said.
“We’ve been trying to get into the depository for a week. They have not allowed our people in there to verify what documents are in there,” he said.
Kirby disputed that, and blamed the committee for delays in turning over the balance of the documents. The two parties haven’t met since the judge ordered the protective order, and Kirby said it was the committee that refused to work out the order’s details.
Dunn said the law requires Enron to produce the documents before it was entitled to a protective order.
Sen. Ross Johnson, R-Irvine, said Dunn’s push to have Enron found in contempt “smacks at this point of Enron being punished for exercising their right to go to court.”
A contempt report on Reliant Energy has also been sent to the Senate. A contempt finding against Mirant Corp. was later reversed when the company opened a document depository in Sacramento for the committee’s investigators.
If the full Senate imposes sanctions against Reliant or Enron, it will be the first time since 1929, when the Senate voted to jail reluctant witnesses during a committee investigation of price fixing and price gouging involving cement sales to the state.