Michael Peevey appoints himself to head the San Bruno investigation.
The head of the state Public Utilities Commission—faulted by critics for its lax safety oversight during his tenure—has put himself in charge of deciding whether Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will be fined for the deadly San Bruno gas explosion.
President Michael Peevey has acknowledged that the agency he has led since 2003 had been lax and complacent on safety before the Sept. 9, 2010, disaster, in which eight people died and 38 homes were destroyed.
A blue-ribbon panel he appointed in the wake of blast, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board, said the agency’s oversight as flawed.
This month, the commission lodged charges that could result in hundreds of millions in penalties against PG&E for a string of violations of state and federal safety regulations related to San Bruno.
The commission issued a statement Wednesday that stressed the assignment was done in consultation with the PUC’s chief administrative law judge, Karen Clopton, and that any settlement with PG&E requires a vote of the five-member panel.
“Each commissioner handles cases across many industries,” the statement noted.
Peevey’s critics, who have called for his ouster, said his self-assignment to the most significant case in the commission’s history was a stunning setback to safety.
“I think it’s a slap in the face to all Californians,” said Mark Toney, head of The Utility Reform Network consumer organization, “that he would have the audacity to appoint himself, especially since he bears some of the responsibility for the situation in the first place.”
Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, wrote a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown to “express outrage and indignation” at Peevey’s action given what he called a “decade of mistrust” under Peevey’s tenure.
He said that the commission’s expert on gas safety, Mike Florio, has been diligent and “there is no reason why he should not be guiding this penalty investigation.”
“I find it offensive that someone so responsible for the culture implicated in the San Bruno disaster has taken it upon himself to lead the direction of this penalty proceeding,” Hill said. “It is a slap in the face to the people in San Bruno.”