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Just who is protecting us from PG&E?

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POSTED September 17, 2010 3:04 a.m.
Who do you trust - PG&E or the government?

Given the stonewalling PG&E is giving both state and federal agencies as to the exact locations of their natural gas pipelines you have no choice but to trust the for-profit monopoly that’s essentially protected with government price controls to secure an 11.45 percent return on their investment no matter what, whether it is mismanagement or inadvertently killing some customers.

If you doubt that just check out how the California Public Utilities Commission allows PG&E – and other investor-owned utilities – to file for rate hikes. They include a separate charge off to customers for lawsuits. In other words, should PG&E’s actions kill a customer as it did during the natural gas explosion on Christmas Eve 2008 in Rancho Cordova, ratepayers get charged to pay for the legal settlement.

PG&E, of course, insists they are just projecting us from terrorists. But who is protecting us from PG&E?

The folks that should really be beaten up over this are the California Public Utilities Commission. PG&E, though, deserves a trip to the woodshed for systematically reducing its trained work force as well as securing a rate increase to replace aging infrastructure, not do it and spend the money on something else, and then apply for a rate increase again to replace what they were supposed to replace with the previous rate hike.

The CPUC is supposed to be regulating PG&E and protecting the people of this state. Yet they apparently aren’t the go-to people for state and local agencies now worried about where critical pipelines are buried.

One would think the CPUC would have some type of standards for natural gas pipelines such as useful life, what type of construction to allow above them and other such things that they actually enforce. The odds are they probably do. But for whatever reason they opted to not share that information with anyone of consequence such as first responders and cities. After all, when you’re doing the people’s business the last thing you want to do is inform the people especially of potential safety issues.

It might just make them skittish and worry whether they are going to get blown to hell while minding their own business at home.

The CPUC has proven time and time again that it views its watchdog role as one that is all bark and no bite. Sorry but sternly worded letters from the CPUC president after six people had died and 37 homes destroyed in a natural gas explosion isn’t the way it is supposed to work. The CPUC should be on top of the game and not reacting to missteps.

The CPUC will strut around and puff out its collective chest while public furor is still high. But as things calm down they will go back to the cozy relations they enjoy with the for-profit utilities they regulate.

When PG&E, for example, was continuing to violate a directive from the CPUC in its unsuccessful effort to undermine public power in Marin County last year, nothing happened. PG&E just kept pushing the envelope.

The House that Peter Darbee is presiding over is all about profitability and not dependability.

This explains why he had no shame being recorded telling stockholders investing $50 million in PG&E unsuccessful bid to hoodwink voters into amending the California constitution at the ballot box to strengthen their monopoly via Proposition 16 was good business.

PG&E has systemically reduced the number of workers they have in the field under Darbee while fat bonuses have been given to those in the executive suites for doing the tough job of almost driving PG&E into bankruptcy.

The sad thing is that the CPUC represents all that is wrong with regulating business in California. The state pursues nickel and dime stuff against the small guys that have minimal if any impact in terms of safety and lets the big guys – as they did in Rancho Cardona – get away with murder, figuratively speaking.
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