City Asks Feds for Pipeline Safety Takeover

By Published On: June 28, 2013

San Bruno asked federal regulators to take away the California Public Utilities Commission’s authority over natural gas pipeline safety. The request was in response to allegations of growing internal strife at the commission over the terms of the proposed $2.25 billion deal to settle claims following Pacific Gas & Electric’s gas pipeline blast in San Bruno on Sept. 9, 2010. Legal staff working on the case walked off or were removed from the ongoing investigation earlier this month (Current, June 7, 2013). “[E]ven highly regarded career professionals within the CPUC are fed up with the cozy relationships and conflicts of interest between the CPUC’s leadership and PG&E,” San Bruno stated June 25. Current was told by sources that this week a dozen regulatory lawyers sent a letter to the commissioners urging the dismissal of Frank Lindh, commission general counsel, and former PG&E attorney. There also have been ongoing disagreements between commission lawyers on the San Bruno case and Jack Hagan, director of the agency’s Consumer Protection & Safety Division. “We are aware of recent issues surrounding staffing of CPUC attorneys assigned to the cases, and as such, have made internal changes,” commission president Mike Peevey and commissioner Mike Florio wrote in a joint June 26 statement. They said Lindh was recusing himself “as chief advisory attorney in the cases.” Retired commission lawyer Arocles Aguilar is returning to the commission to take over that role, according to the commissioners. San Bruno seeks to have federal regulators take away the commission’s safety authority delegated to it under the federal Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act. “A culture of regulatory failure and lax enforcement is not only endemic at the California Public Utilities Commission but poses an imminent danger to California ratepayers that live, work or go to school and travel in proximity to intrastate gas pipelines,” the city told the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, U.S. Attorney General and federal District Court for Northern California in a June 21 filing. San Bruno also asked the federal agency to review and discontinue issuing grants to the CPUC because of ongoing safety inadequacies. “We have received the letter and are currently reviewing it,” Patricia Klinger, the federal pipeline safety agency spokesperson, said. The city separately demanded that state regulators release by June 27 internal documents relating to the CPUC’s ongoing penalty phase of the investigation into PG&E’s San Bruno explosion, which left eight dead and destroyed more than three dozen homes. It seeks correspondence between Florio and Paul Clanon, CPUC executive director, and the two administrative law judges on the cases for proof of alleged “impropriety.” “San Bruno is seeking justice for PG&E’s decades of mismanagement and yet the CPUC’s top staff and PG&E continue to play Russian roulette with the lives of Californians,” city mayor Jim Ruane said. The commission told the city it would produce documents the morning of June 28, Sam Singer, San Bruno spokesperson, told Current. “How many and which ones are not yet known,” he added. Peevey said July 27 that since the San Bruno pipeline explosion safety is getting better. “Don’t ever let it happen again,” Florio added. Peevey noted that the utility is partnering with “pig” pipeline technology 3P services to report on the internal works of the transmission pipes.

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