Will the CPUC Throw the Book at PG&E?

By Mindy Spatt

     The CPUC will vote on Thursday, Dec. 19 on a proposal to fine PG&E $17 million for doctoring pipeline safety records, which is certainly appropriate.  TURN wants to see the Commission throw the book at PG&E- not only did PG&E supply incorrect information to the Commission regarding seam welds on a major gas transmission line not far from San Bruno, information that the CPUC based approval of pressure levels on. But after PG&E discovered the error, it covered up the problem rather than admitting it.


You might think PG&E would, at the very least, tell the CPUC that its crucial decision on appropriate pressure levels for Line 147 was based on incorrect information from PG&E.  But you’d be wrong.  Instead of immediately fixing the problem, PG&E sat on the error for over 8 months.  Even then, rather than fess up, PG&E tried to sneak a change into the previous CPUC records of the case without anyone noticing.


There’s no question that PG&E should be sanctioned big time for this error, which was compounded by months of inaction.  PG&E knew full well that in determining the maximum operating pressure for the line the Commission had relied on data submitted by PG&E, including a report on the pipeline’s features.

By suppressing this information for months while the erroneous pressure determination continued in effect, PG&E effectively misled the CPUC, the parties the pipeline safety proceedings and the public into believing in the accuracy of pipeline reports PG&E knew to be wrong.  And don’t think PG&E ever actually admitted the mistake.  Instead, PG&E tried to surreptitiously go back and doctor previously filed materials.


Kirk Johnson, a PG&E Vice President who is likely paid a million plus per year, admitted he was notified way before the Commission was. And despite the fact that Mr. Johnson a had testified under oath that PG&E had validated the information it had provided to the Commission through records review, he did nothing to correct the record.


Since this flagrant attempt to trick the Commission and the public came to light, PG&E has never explained why it took more than eight months to report the error – even as it was publicly proclaiming a new and more serious approach to safety. 


These violations are extremely serious and warrant the maximum fine.  By not correcting the record, PG&E allowed the CPUC to continue to believe that it had established the MAOP for Line 147 at the correct level, even though management at PG&E knew that the MAOP needed to be reduced.  It is sadly typical of PG&E that it was apparently more concerned with how admitting the mistake would look than how it would impact customers, their safety, or the Commission’s authority.


Rather than repent, PG&E has prevaricated, insisting that this was a minor error of no import, which may be what inspired Commissioner Ferron to propose the maximum penalty of $17 million in fines.  TURN hopes a majority of the Commissioners will approve Ferron’s proposal.  For PG&E to be deceiving the CPUC and doctoring pipeline safety records this long after the San Bruno explosion is truly unacceptable.