PG&E CEO addresses federal indictment

PG&E's CEO faced the cameras for the first time since the federal government filed criminal charges against the company.
April 4, 2014 9:33:09 PM PDT
PG&E has produced a feel-good television ad, but victims of the San Bruno explosion accuse the company of hiding behind a slick public relations campaign.

The ads are designed to boost the image of a utility that continues to face a public relations problem and on Friday, ABC7 News spoke with Anthony Earley Jr., president and CEO of PG&E.

Earlier this week there was anger in San Bruno from city leaders when a spokesperson for PG&E used the word "accident" when talking about the 2010 pipeline explosion. Earley carefully did not say that word again, but he didn't say what people in San Bruno want to hear.

"We're going to focus on the future," said Earley.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his company was criminally indicted, Earley told ABC7 News he wants to focus on the future, not a past that included a pipeline explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno in 2010.

"We have invested over $2.5 billion in the last two and half years. I want to make clear that our commitment is unwavering and we are going to continue that in whatever the outcome of the legal proceedings are," said Earley.

When an ABC7 News reporter said to Earley, "You understand community members are outraged. They feel like PG&E has not done enough," he responded by saying, "And we understand that, but we're committed to making sure that our system is the safest and most reliable."

In the indictment, the U.S. Attorney claims PG&E willfully failed to maintain and inspect Pipeline 132 and hundreds of others in Northern California in a way that would have prevented the San Bruno tragedy.

Earley was the keynote speaker at an economic summit hosted by Greenlining Institute.

"The U.S. Attorney had decided to file criminal charges under the Pipeline Safety Act," said Earley, while speaking in front of the crowd.

In his remarks before business leaders in Oakland, Earley referenced San Bruno only briefly as a segue to the steps he says PG&E has taken to be a safer company.

Earley's message about safety reforms was mostly lost on attorney Joe Cotchett, who has represented dozens of victims from the San Bruno tragedy.

"I would like to believe him. I would hope that's their intent. Here's the tragedy. We've heard it so many times, it's a broken record. We've heard it for years. And for years what have we found? It's profits, not safety that count," said Cotchett.

PG&E recently released an ad campaign designed to humanize the company and perhaps repair its image with the public.

"It's never been for us about the line people, the men and women who do their job," said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane.

Ruane appreciates the message, but still wants more personal accountability from the people at the very top of PG&E.

"I believe the corporate culture now is in fact 'let's rejuvenate this corporation going forward,' but that does not excuse them from what happened in the past and what they caused," said Ruane.

Much to the dismay of the Ruane, the federal indictment does not name any PG&E individuals or officials with the company. That said, PG&E will be arraigned on that indictment in federal court next Wednesday in San Francisco.

"We have invested over $2.5 billion in the last two and half years. I want to make clear that our commitment is unwavering and we are going to continue that in whatever the outcome of the legal proceedings are," said Earley.

The utility says it's spent about $2.7 billion in safety-related work since San Bruno after eight people died, 66 people were injured and 38 home were destroyed.

A consulting audit in 2011 revealed that PG&E encouraged staffers to ignore significant safety issues, while at the same time the utility took $150 million earmarked for pipeline repairs and spent it on an executive incentives instead.

ABC7 News reporter Nick Smith contributed to this report.


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