San Bruno pipeline safety meeting gets contentious

January 13, 2011 7:48:19 PM PST
A Bay Area lawmaker practically stormed the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, and tempers flared. The contentious moments occurred over how the commission has been regulating Pacific Gas & Electric leading up to the San Bruno pipeline explosion.

Gov. Jerry Brown will be appointing two, or possibly three, new commissioners at the CPUC. Brown also has the power to replace the current president with another commissioner. It was with that in mind that Assm. Jerry Hill, D-San Bruno, very publicly slammed the commission.

Hill ran through a list of what he calls PG&E blunders revealed by the San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 37 homes. He told the CPUC he came to ask them to be a better regulator.

"This commission has failed the people of California and especially the residents in my district by your culture of complacency," Hill told the commission. "I believe the only way to change the culture of this commission is to fill the vacancies on this commission with individuals of experience and a passion for pipeline safety."

Commission president Michael Peevey said he realized there was fault at the PUC and "everywhere else."

"We appointed a five-member panel unfettered by anything to come and look at these matters and be critical of us, as well as PG&E and others, and you make no mention whatsoever or no recognition of that and I find that contemptible," said Peevey.

Fire victim Bill Magoolaghan's yellow-tagged house still sits empty, waiting for insurance to fund rebuilding.

"The PUC is just as responsible as PG&E in my eyes for the deaths of our eight friends and the destruction of our neighborhood, and for them to think that Jerry Hill is contemptible for trying to look out for us, that's just obscene," said Magoolaghan.

Hill suggested as commission president, Peevey provide the leadership for change.

"Well, I respect your opinion, but you also managed to slur several hundred people at this commission in one fell swoop," Hill told the commission.

"As President Peevey, I find it professionally and personally offensive for the member of the Legislalure to come before this body and try to even imply or indicate the slightest scintilla that we have been complacent in this area," said Timothy Alan Simon, CPUC commissioner.

"You really are concerned about the PUC being defensive because such bad things happened under their watch," said Magoolaghan. "So it's nice that they're doing things now, but what were they doing before?"

The commission gave PG&E until Mar. 15 to comply with the National Transportation Safety Board's recommendation to provide documents verifying what kind of pipes it has along its entire system, and proving that proper tests have been done to assure safe operating pressure levels.

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