SAN BRUNO (CBS SF) – San Bruno city officials were “extremely disappointed” Friday by Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of half a dozen bills intended to reform the California Public Utilities Commission in the wake of a deadly pipeline explosion, according to City Manager Connie Jackson.
The package of bills by legislators including state senators Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, were intended to increase transparency and public access to information at the CPUC, which has suffered a series of scandals in recent years.
In his veto messages, Brown said that he supported the intent of the bills and many of their proposals, but feared that they would result in increased litigation, complication and delays without improving the public’s access to information. In addition, some would require additional funds.
“I am directing my office to work with the authors on drafting these reforms and to ensure the Commission receives the necessary resources to implement them swiftly and effectively,” Brown said.
San Bruno city officials have spent the past five years seeking to hold PG&E and CPUC officials accountable since a Sept. 9, 2010 gas pipeline explosion in their city killed eight people and destroyed an entire neighborhood. Investigations and litigation following the blast have uncovered sloppy record keeping and poor safety practices within the utility and an overly cozy relationship with the commission regulating it.
“The memory of the citizens of San Bruno that lost their lives does not allow us to support the action the governor is taking,” Jackson said this evening. “It seems to defer, delay and complicate the need for action toward reform.”
Jackson said that while the bills might not have been perfect or addressed all the issues, the city viewed them as a step in the right direction.
In the aftermath of the explosion, which was caused by a defective seam weld in a pipeline segment incorrectly listed in records as seamless, PG&E was fined $1.6 billion by the CPUC. Federal criminal charges have also been filed against the utility carrying a potential fine of up to $1.13 billion.
The CPUC in turn came under fire after a lawsuit filed by San Bruno officials prompted the release last year of thousands of pages of communications and emails that revealed close behind-the-scenes communications between PG&E and CPUC regulators. The emails included discussions on how to handle controversies, the selection of a judge in a rate-setting hearing and campaign contributions by the utility.
Three PG&E executives were fired following the disclosures, while former Commission President Michael Peevey stepped down at the end of the year amidst calls for his removal.
One of the bills Brown vetoed Friday, Senate Bill 660, would have banned ex parte, or private communications, between regulators and utility executives in some proceedings.
Leno, the bill’s author, said it was intended to rebuild public trust in the CPUC.
“Ratepayers have already paid dearly for California’s failure to act, and the status quo is simply unacceptable,” Leno said in a statement Friday. “Revelations of backroom deals and breaches of transparency have undermined public trust and weakened public safety. Our efforts to reform the CPUC will continue.”
The CPUC this summer discussed changes to communications policies and decision-making procedures. CPUC President Michael Picker in August also released a proposal that would make it easier for commission employees to release records to the public without commission approval.
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