PUC President to Oversee Possible Fines of PG&E

The decision of California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey to personally oversee a key inquiry into possible fines against PG&E for the 2010 San Bruno pipeline disaster was denounced Wednesday by critics who contend he’s soft on the utility.

The decision of California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey to personally oversee a key inquiry into possible fines against PG&E for the 2010 San Bruno pipeline disaster was denounced Wednesday by critics who contend he’s soft on the utility.

“I’m shocked,” said Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, whose district includes the San Bruno natural gas pipe that ruptured on Sept. 9, 2010, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. “To have Michael Peevey, whose complacency contributed to the loss of life and property in San Bruno, now judge PG&E on their actions is a clear slap in the face of the residents of San Bruno and of California.”

Hill also sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown to complain about Peevey appointing himself to the proceeding. Brown’s office did not have an immediate comment.

Mindy Spatt of The Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco-based consumer group, also expressed outrage.

“President Peevey’s failure to police PG&E has been documented again and again,” she said, noting that he’s been on the commission since 2002—and president of the agency since 2008—when some of PG&E’s alleged violations occurred. “New leadership is needed to move the investigation forward.”

Although Spatt acknowledged that Peevey wouldn’t have sole say in determining whether or how much PG&E might be fined, she said he could greatly influence the inquiry by deciding what evidence will be heard and other matters.

 

Peevey, who has been accused of being cozy with utilities in part because he was president of Southern California Edison and Edison International in the early 1990s, could not be reached for comment. But the agency’s spokeswoman Terrie Prosper noted that Peevey previously has warned “we are prepared to impose very significant fines” if PG&E is found to have broken the law.

Prosper added that “this will be a fully public proceeding that’s already begun with a hard-hitting staff report available on our website and any decisions resulting from the case will be voted on by all five commissioners.”

The agency began its inquiry to consider fining PG&E on Jan. 12, after its safety division issued a report accusing the company of violating numerous pipeline laws and regulations dating back decades. The utility could face a financial penalty amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

The commission also has launched two other inquiries after the San Bruno explosion which could result in fines against PG&E. Those investigations of the company’s sloppy record-keeping and its admission that it set some gas pipe pressures too high for certain densely populated areas are being overseen by Commissioner Michael Florio, a former lawyer with Spatt’s consumer group who was appointed to the commission a year ago.

So far, the commission hasn’t fined PG&E for the San Bruno accident. The agency’s last fine against PG&E was for $38 million in December 2011 for another gas-line explosion that killed one person in Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento.