SAN BRUNO (CBS 5) — As Pacific Gas & Electric Co. faces a criminal investigation and lawsuits over the 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, the utility’s new leadership is rolling out a campaign to regain public trust.

The new campaign starts off with a TV ad featuring a mea culpa from their new CEO Tony Earley.

“I saw a company that had lost its way. But I came here because the people clearly haven’t,” Earley said in the ad.

PG&E spokesperson Joe Molica told CBS 5, “We have said that we take full responsibility for the tragedy.”

The $10 million media blitz began a week ago. Molica said customers wanted to hear more about their pipeline safety efforts.

“And at the end of the day, this is all about letting our customers know the progress that we’re getting and the goals that we have to make us the safest and most reliable systems in the country,” he said.

The new ad comes as PG&E faces lawsuits over whether or not the utility should pay punitive damages for the 2010 blast that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

PG&E said the ad was paid for with money from shareholders and not from customers. They also denied they were trying to influence the jury pool with good PR.

“It takes many, many months to plan an outreach program like this. And there has been no motive to do anything of the sort,” Molica said.

Mike Danko, an attorney representing about 50 blast survivors and their families, wants PG&E to focus on pipeline safety.

“Sure they can repair their image, but first repair the pipes. Get their system up to speed. Get their system so it’s safe. And there’s no room until that’s done for patting themselves on the back,” Danko said.

Danko added it shouldn’t matter if the $10 million budget for the ad campaign was earmarked.

“If they’ve really taken to heart the lessons from the San Bruno fire, then this isn’t what they would be doing. They’d be out there right now improving the system and compensating the victims. Not trying to make themselves look good,” he said.

Radio ads from PG&E are slated to begin on Friday. The utility is also planning on newspaper ads and billboards in August.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

  1. It is so touching the way the narrator, female of course, seems to have a hitch in her voice (several times, almost like she was going to cry) when saying how PG&E failed the community, and how sorry they are.

    Knowing that corporations don’t cry, and with the logical conclusion that the unidentified narrator was an actress with a script, I found the commercial to be rather callous.

    8 people died, families were ended, and there were 6 felony convictions. Since no death is less than any other, this suggests, and the record confirms, there was no accountability for individual deaths (5 felony counts of violating pipeline safety standards and 1 count of obstruction an investigation. No convictions for individual or even collective death.; 9 Aug 2016). Not quite like when it’s a person instead of a corporation, is it? At a minimum, a person or persons would get involuntary manslaughter x 8 (note the Calif felony murder rule regarding a person or a fellow perpetrator). It seems that if a corporation does slay people, it’s can somehow less than “unlawful killing of a human being without malice,” even an unlawful accident. Those 5 convictions apparently don’t mean Death x 8 was “illegal”? Can you say justice by plea deal?

    I am sure proponent legalists would say that this was an unfortunate, but not an unlawful by an individual killing (burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, despite those 5 felony convictions of violating pipeline safety standards). Or even more cynical, that all those innocent PG&E shareholders should not suffer the consequences of actual PG&E personnel being held accountable for manslaughter or worse. Really, like there would be any significant and lasting financial effect (have you seen the profit-loss statements?) of PG&E staff going to prison for this (AYK? Their stock would probably go up out of respect for accountability).

    All this said, I am sure PG&E is actually are very sorry. After all, $3 million (maximum per law) seems like a big fine, and all the expenses of better monitoring and installing modern equipment for old to very old equipment (ie, stuff that needed to be replaced), and monitoring systems and stations that did not exist before (ie, stuff that was needed but not built), was multiples more expensive (oops, but just a fraction of earnings). They’re a corporation, and they are indeed very sorry for affecting their bottom line, even a little bit (a little bit of billions is a lot).

    HOWEVER, with their rationale that they need to improve their systems, their rates are up, and their profits are jumpin’. “PG&E profits soared in the fourth quarter , an increase powered primarily by the favorable timing of a rate case and sharp rises in customers’ gas bills.” Mercury News, 16 Feb 2017. Also, “San Francisco-based PG&E earned $1.41 billion for all of 2016, up 58.4 percent from profits in 2015 of $888 million” ibid / same citation. Guess this does not hurt so much. So who paid the penalties, financial or otherwise? Not even the shareholders, it was the consumers, some with very direct effect (8).

    The question for the public is – would actual criminal charges/convictions, and actual jail time, improve corporation behavior in a broader, prospective, and less reactive fashion? You bet it would, when is actual practice to personally and not just financially affect those than make the decisions that lead to this sort of public failure. Of course, it would have to be considered how many thousands would go to jail, in addition to corporate fines. This happens all the time, and no one goes to jail for corporate manslaughter, except some schlep / scapegoat that it can be pinned on. NEVER management that created and reinforced the cost-conscious environment that lead to a schlep thinking they would not be involved in the inevitable “accident” that claims someone’s life, even if that person is unrelated to the corporation, ie, innocent bystander.

    If the public wants to change corporation behavior from a balance sheet calculation to something more humane, then this is the path. Step to it.

    BTW, back to the first paragraph. Was it sexist to use an almost crying female narrator for this commercial? Did anyone even notice this, or care? On how many levels does all of this just turn your stomach?

    I won’t even discuss the executive pay raises. Mercury News, 18 April 2017.


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