These are not fun days for PG&E.
The California Public Utilities Commission released a report on Thursday contending PG&E broke “numerous” state and federal safety laws prior to the San Bruno pipeline explosion disaster. That report notes PG&E on two occasions prior to the explosion spiked the gas level pressure in the San Bruno pipeline beyond the legal threshold.
One of the biggest smoking gun is PG&E’s failure to comply with federal law calling for high pressure water inspections that experts said would have indicated the San Bruno segment wasn’t up to par. That could have saved eight lives, avoided injuries to 50 people, and not destroyed three dozen plus homes.
Then an independent audit released Thursday showed that PG&E used more than $100 million in safety and operation fees it was authorized to collect from gas customers not for the purpose it was intended but for stockholder dividends an executive bonuses.
Also the U.S. Department of Justice, California Attorney General, and San Mateo District Attorney’s Office have formed a task force to pursue possible criminal charges against PG&E.
While PG&E isn’t exactly thought of in many quarters these days as a warm and fuzzy corporation, they may not be the culprit that should be prosecuted.
Hasn’t anyone asked why the CPUC that supposedly exists to regulate utilities and protect the public - has been asleep at the wheel for years?
It is obvious the CPUC didn’t care about its role as public watchdog or else is grossly incompetent or perhaps are simply lapdogs for PG&E et al. Historically the CPUC board has been composed of folks who once profited mightily from the very companies that the CPUC is suppose to regulate.
Prosecutors - or heaven forbid elected leaders in Sacramento - need to see if there is any pattern of criminal negligence in how the CPUC obviously didn’t monitor or check whether PG&E was doing mandated safety inspections.
They should also ask why the CPUC - that not just determines rate hikes requested by PG&E but supposedly audits them - failed until after people were killed to find out that the company diverted $100 million for gas pipeline safety and maintenance charges to pay for dividends for stockholders and fat bonuses for executives.
The San Bruno disaster is at least a colossal failure of PG&E to “do the right thing”. It is also an indictment of the CPUC itself.
It is time for an elected leader to do what reform governor Hiram Johnson did a century ago when Southern Pacific et al had a chokehold on California’s economy via monopolistic shipping and passenger prices as well as questionable safety practices.
Johnson pushed through reform, got the California Railroad Commission formed - the forerunner of the CPUC - and actually freed Californians from the tyranny of a corporation run amok by greed and a disregard for safety.
PG&E will undoubtedly pay a price for its mistakes and what appears to be blatant shifting of rate revenue collected for safety and pipeline maintenance to line the pockets of stockholders and top executives.
That said the folks who made it all possible at the CPUC should not be left off the hook.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209-249-3519.