Monday, October 18, 2010

California PUC regulators refuse to fine PG&E for violations

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - California regulators did not levy a single fine against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for violations of natural gas safety laws during a six-year period in which the utility racked up more such infractions than the rest of the state's major pipeline operators combined, according to a San Francisco Chronicle records review.
PG&E, which operates 42 percent of the state's gas pipeline mileage, accounted for almost 60 percent of the probable violations of federal safety laws that regulators found from 2004 through 2009, according to records from the California Public Utilities Commission.
The commission, which enforces the gas safety laws in California on behalf of the federal government, has taken a largely hands-off attitude toward PG&E - even in the face of apparently serious violations.
The commission has yet to open an official investigation into a fatal gas explosion in December 2008 in Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County, an accident that federal investigators blamed in part on PG&E's failure to act on previous safety warnings.
The state agency is now forming a panel to conduct an independent review of the PG&E pipeline blast on Sept. 9 that killed eight people in San Bruno. The explosion's cause has not been determined.
The commission's recent history suggests penalties are unlikely.
Richard Clark, head of consumer protection and safety for the commission, said it's been at least seven years since his agency fined PG&E - or any other utility operating gas pipelines in the state. He said the industry has a history of fixing its problems voluntarily.
"We operate under the assumption they are interested in having a safely operated system," Clark said. "If we saw a trend that gave us concerns in terms of what we are finding out there, we would take enforcement action."
Clark added, however, that "we don't see problems that warrant that level of enforcement actions. We don't see it. This is an anomalous event that took place in San Bruno."

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