CPUC president to oversee San Bruno investigation

January 26, 2012 6:41:41 AM PST
The San Bruno pipeline disaster is back in the news. A utility watchdog group is angry with the agency that regulates PG&E because one of the men it claims was asleep at the switch has appointed himself to be in charge of the internal investigation.

There is still a memorial in place for the victims of the San Bruno explosion that killed eight people and destroyed more than three dozen homes. The September 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion exposed a lot -- a federal investigation concluded that substandard pipe, poor welding, inadequate maintenance and shoddy record keeping, made it a catastrophe waiting to happen. Now, there is new information about the person assigned to oversee the penalty phase of the PG&E investigation -- California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey.

"It's a terrible idea," lawyer Michael Danko said.

Danko represents several of the people who were victims of the blast and says that because of Peevey's role at CPUC and his cozy relationship with utility companies like PG&E, he cannot be trusted to be objective.

"You have to keep in mind that the CPUC's job was to keep the public safe from PG&E and Mr. Peevey was the president of the commission; he failed to do his job," Danko said.

"Customers want to see someone who unbiased, independent and untainted by the past failures of the commission," The Utility Reform Network spokesperson Mindy Spatt said.

The CPUC commissioners approved an order to institute an investigation on January 12. It was assigned to both Peevey and an administrative law judge. It is standard procedure according to the CPUC; commissioners often handle cases across many industries.

"There couldn't be someone more tainted by the previous San Bruno investigations than President Peevey," Spatt said.

Through a spokesperson, Peevey said, "We are now, essentially, giving PG&E its day in court. If we determine PG&E has violated the law, we are prepared to impose significant fines."

In his duties as investigator, Peevey will attend hearings and work with the administrative law judge. He can eventually draft his own proposal, but all decisions are presented to the full panel of commissioners and voted on.

In a statement, PG&E spokesperson David Eisenhower said, "Mr. Peevey's appointment to oversee the penalty phase of the San Bruno Investigation does not, in any way, change PG&E's commitment to cooperate fully with the investigation."