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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The federal judge overseeing Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s bankruptcy case ruled Tuesday the utility’s ratepayers cannot form an official committee to represent their interests.

Ratepayer advocates had sought such recognition to ensure the utility would not raise rates further as a way of paying off its debts.

But U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali agreed with PG&E and the official creditors committee and rejected the idea for the second time in two months.

Montali suggested instead that ratepayers organize an informal committee to bring their concerns to the court, and said the ratepayers also could bring matters before the state Public Utilities Commission.

A separate committee of ratepayers would have been able to vote on the final reorganization of the company, a plan that could affect power service and rates.

PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy April 6, and owes billions of dollars to more than 50,000 creditors. It was brought down, in part, by California’s botched experiment with deregulation.

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