PG&E’s cozy relationship with public officials

July 28, 2014

pg&eAfter reading thousands of emails received as part of a California Public Records Act lawsuit settlement, San Bruno officials announced that state utility regulators were advising PG&E on ways to fend off a legal challenge following the deadly gas-pipeline explosion in San Bruno in violations of multiple laws.

The e-mails show that PG&E repeatedly went to top regulatory officials to assist them in dealing with the 2010 explosion, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. San Bruno city officials have claimed that since the explosion, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and PG&E cozy relationship revealed a “culture of complacency.”

In an announcement, city officials said they discovered 40 violations of state law in the relationship between the regulators and PG&E.

PG&E contends that the regular communications with the PUC are required and that the utility is “committed to conducting ourselves in an ethical manner at all times,” according to a statement released Friday.

Nevertheless, federal investigators said that the cozy relationship between PG&E and the PUC and insufficient oversight contributed to the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion.

As part of the settlement, the PUC has agreed to make safety documents and public records more accessible. It took San Bruno almost a year to get copies of more than 7,000 emails.


18 Comments

  1. Kevin Rice says:

    READER POLL: SHOULD PG&E CORPORATE LOBBYIST JOHN SHOALS BE ELECTED AS MAYOR OF GROVER BEACH?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  2. kayaknut says:

    Now we understand why the PUC never met a PG&E rate increase request they didn’t support

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  3. diamond says:

    Hummm….. giant corporations in bed with politicians? So, when was the last time any one of you felt that a politician was looking out for the citizens ????
    The problem has become that corruption is so blatantly open now, it is the norm.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  4. snooky156 says:

    Oh, hey now! Everybody should act surprised that a “culture of complacency” contributed to a man-made disaster? Duh! I’d like to know what the “40 violations of state law” are and how many of those laws are violated EVERY DAY by government representatives working closely with Industry. How about lobbyists working with Industry, Labor with Government, Industry with Labor, Government with Labor, or pulling 3-way or 4-way trades of information?? Were these just individual doing their jobs as they were trained? Not much uncovered here. People died, and we should all be concerned that this repeatable “culture of complacency” stretched too thin becomes a culture of corruption and that puts all of our livelihoods at risk.

    So, where does complacency become criminal negligence? I’d like to know more about the 40 violations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

    • Kevin Rice says:

      See my post above.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Kevin Rice says:

      After skimming some of the thousands of documents, including the forty emails San Bruno calls the “Greatest Hits”, here is the ABSOLUTE BEST (worst) email:

      *********************************
      From: Carol A. Brown [PUC Chief of Staff]
      To: Laura Doll [PG&E Director of Regulatory Relations]
      Date: April 25, 2013 4:06 PM
      Subject: nice seeing you

      Talked with the judge — they issued a ruling saying the hearing was moot — I think you have 2 ways of going (you might want to chat with your legal people)
      1. Send back a sweet note saying the issue is moot since seminar not going forward (problem — it is not “cancelled” only postponed) — and then wait for them to throw a fit
      2. Answer any simple question you can, and then object to the others as being outside the scope of the 3 OIIs [order to initiate investigation] — but offering to meet and confer on the issue — and schedule a date out a little for the meet-and-confer — then they will file a motion to compel, no need for any expedition of the process — you respond — and a hearing is held in due course.
      Happy to chat
      *********************************

      Amazing!!! The Chief of Staff for our regulatory commission (the PUC) is talking to the judge on behalf of PG&E and offering advice to PG&E on how to minimize legal recourse!!!

      The reply from PG&E says it all:

      *********************************
      From: Laura Doll [PG&E Director of Regulatory Relations]
      To: Carol A. Brown [PUC Chief of Staff]
      Date: April 25, 2013 4:17 PM

      Love you. Thanks.
      Not sure yet!
      *********************************

      The “seminar” mentioned was a Safety Symposium to be held May 2013 by the PUC and PG&E. Famed airline captain “Sully” Sullenberger was booked to speak.

      After becoming aware of the symposium – which was to feature CPUC Commissioners and PG&E executives on a shared panel — the City of San Bruno filed a motion calling for Commissioners Michael Peevey and Mike Florio’s removal from the event. A clear violation of the rules against ex parte communications, the symposium was eventually cancelled due to the sharp criticism it sparked. At the time, PG&E claimed that it had not been involved in the event’s planning but had contributed financially – a claim clearly debunked by the public records, which document PG&E’s intimate involvement.

      Others of the 40 emails came from PG&E V.P. Brian Cherry, and were sent to PUC Executive Director Michael Peevey and PUC Executive Director Paul Clanon. Many of the emails sent to the PUC include stock market ratings and fiscal outlooks and strongly suggested (all behind closed doors) that the PUC’s proposed fine amount needs to be lowered as it would overly harm PG&E.

      One email pertaining to the cancellation of the Safety Symposium mentions dinner at Postrio (an extremely posh S.F. restaurant) between PG&E CEO Tony Early, PG&E President Christopher Johns, executives from Sempra Utilities and Southwest Gas, and Brigadier General (CA State Military Reserve) Emory Hagan who is the PUC Director of Safety and Enforcement.

      * * *

      Oh, and before any left-of-center Dems start screaming about “right-wing corporate fascism” or any such thing…. Mary Jung, the current Chair of the S.F. Democratic County Central Committee is PG&E’s Director of Government and Community Relations. And… former Secretary to the PUC.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  5. Pelican1 says:

    It’s those “cozy” relationships that have afforded PG&E the opportunity to destroy communities such as Hinkley and neighborhoods of San Bruno. It’s allowed controversy such as the Prop 16 vote to occur, the 2001 energy crisis, de-regulation, nuke plants being allowed to be built on earthquake faults…and the list goes on and on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  6. spiritpen says:

    A colossal conflict of interest! Energy regulators acting as council for a defendant in a murder case!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 5

  7. hijinks says:

    Well, so govt regulators aren’t any good, but what do you offer as an alternative? Let PG&E police themselves? I’m sure that would work just great. Just let “the market” take care of safety?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 12

  8. LameCommenter says:

    Government regulators are NOT the answer to pipeline safety.

    Public customer pressure and brutal litigation costs are a much better marketplace forum to keep energy distribution on a safe keel.

    To wit: that pipeline smelled of mercaptan-odorized gas as it underwent a common warning period of progressive decay before the big failure and fire. Civil and criminal pressure is called for. Government bean counters sitting in ivory towers are NOT the answer.

    Oops, hey, I just made a funny. I cited an engineering term known as “progressive decay” and I didn’t, by that, mean to work Washington and the Dems into this!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 17

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