U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is calling for a federal investigation into the California Public Utilities Commission and its handling of safety actions proposed by Pacific Gas and Electric following the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion and fire that killed eight nearly three years ago.
“The CPUC appears to be rife with conflicts of interest between its role as a guardian of public safety, its role as a rate setter and its role in ensuring the ongoing financial stability of the utility,” Speier wrote in a letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration June 25 about the utility watchdog’s role when it comes to PG&E.
The PHMSA’s Cynthia Quarterman responded Monday that it has requested a direct response from CPUC President Michael Peevey regarding Speier’s concerns.
It will also conduct a performance and grant audit of the CPUC starting this month, Quarterman wrote.
Speier hopes CPUC employees will cooperate with the investigation.
“Administrator Quarterman pledged to review recent events at the CPUC and the overall capacity of the CPUC to fulfill its duties under federal law. I encourage CPUC employees in the pipeline safety division to be forthcoming with their federal counterparts. PHMSA’s role is to evaluate the technical and organizational strengths of the CPUC and to determine if pipeline safety is adequately assured by CPUC operations. Continued federal funding of the safety program is dependent upon that determination,” Speier wrote in a statement yesterday.
A lesson learned from the San Bruno tragedy, Speier wrote, is that the CPUC must move beyond desk audits of self-reported information from PG&E and other operators.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, has been critical of the CPUC since the San Bruno incident for failing in its duties to ensure the safe delivery of gas through an extensive system of pipelines.
“A federal investigation of the CPUC would certainly be welcomed because the commission, under President Michael Peevey, has not been soliciting the outside advice it needs even after being told two years ago by an independent review panel to hire a consultant to strengthen its safety enforcement program, and has yet to do so,” Hill wrote the Daily Journal in an email.
Speier wants federal experts to thoroughly evaluate the CPUC and hopes its employees will be candid with investigators.
“The residents of California deserve the best oversight in the nation,” Speier wrote in a statement.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106