-By Warner Todd Huston
Another in a long line of explosions and other catastrophic
safety failures occurred at the end of September when a natural gas
pipeline built and owned by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) ruptured in
Roseville, California. This is just of a piece of the failure of PG&E to
ensure public safety, a failure that the so-called government watchdog agency
set up to watch the utility, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC),
has seemingly done little to mitigate.
Now, not only has PG&E failed to safeguard the public,
but the company is insisting that ratepayers foot the bill for repairs and new
safety programs to the tune of some $2.2 billion. Government watchdog CPUC
seems wholly content to stand aside while they do it.
R. Peevey, President of the CPUC, has been at the helm of the
regulatory commission during many of the worst failures of public safety. Yet,
even as he's claimed he intends to make major changes in the agency, Governor
Jerry Brown has not sacked Peevey whose term ends in 2014. The question is,
Peevey has been a disaster. Peevey has reigned over some of
the most disastrous failures which have caused the deaths of nearly a dozen
Californians, his softened stance seems to have allowed PG&E to act with
impunity and arrogance, all to no good effect for ratepayers pocketbooks and
their very safety.
Mark Toney, executive director of TURN, a nonprofit consumer
advocacy organization, is one of those demanding
that Gov. Brown fire Peevey before the end of his 2014 term as head
of the CPUC.
Toney charges that the CPUC "has been guided by a
misguided philosophy" under Peevey.
The commission has rubberstamped millions in unjustified
rate hikes, pushed PG&E into spending billion on an unpopular smart meter
program that so far has delivered no benefit and allowed energy efficiency to
become a utility slush fund, while insulating PG&E from its mistakes with
guaranteed high profits. Granted, Peevey has presided over some new and needed
environmental initiatives, but that doesn't justify his continuing as
Toney ends his piece saying, "It is time for Gov. Brown
to step in and replace Peevey with a president who prioritizes protecting the
safety and pocketbooks of Californians over creating inflated profits and pay
for utilities and their executives."
It's hard to deny Mr. Toney's logic. After the disaster
in San Bruno where a PG&E gas pipeline blew up killing 8 people
destroying multiple homes. It has since been discovered that the power company
has for decades failed to inspect the bulk of its pipelines for safety
violations and structural integrity. It was also discovered that the company
had no emergency plan in place and that caused the company to waste valuable
time in handling the San Bruno disaster.
After repeated findings of additional failures
to keep detailed and proper records on safety issues and several
other accidents where others have been killed -- right up to the recent
explosion in Roseville -- Peevey has still done little to hold PG&E to
Worse, he seems to be assisting PG&E to soften reporting
requirements. For instance, in February, Peevey proposed new rules that would
allow utilities to wait
as long as three months before reporting illegal pressure spikes on
natural gas lines. And this after so many catastrophic failures.
After all this failure and after PG&E has put the safety
of the public at risk, what did Mr. Peevey do upon returning from a nice
vacation in August? Unbelievably, Peevey
served as the master of ceremonies for an industry-sponsored
retirement party for Southern California Edison's chief lobbyist.
Peevey seems pretty content to mix his CPUC, which is
supposed to be a watchdog agency, with the very industry he's charged with
in March, for instance, Peevey thought it would be a great idea to
have PG&E help him pay for expenses of his own efforts. It was such an
outrageous idea to have the industry help fund the watchdog's expenses that
Peevey was forced to unceremoniously drop the idea.
It all leads to a watchdog that is just a bit too cozy with
those he's supposed to be watching.
So, while Peevey is hobnobbing with industry lobbyists and
other bigwigs, PG&E is trying to force ratepayers to pay for the company's
failure to implement safety programs. Suddenly PG&E sees the need for such
programs -- after multimillion dollar fines have been levied against it -- but
instead of footing the bill for things it should have been doing all along, the
company wants to stick customers with the bill.
That isn't all the PG&E is doing. The accounting
failures are all across the board and ratepayers
are expected to pick up the tab.
All this after Peevey has helmed some of the biggest
increases in ratepayer's burden. Again, where is Peevey in all this? Enjoying
the food at dinners for lobbyists, apparently.
Just what the heck is going on, here? Governor Brown should
start paying attention.