Five years after the San Bruno gas pipeline tragedy, the question of which is more inept – PG&E or the state agency that supposedly regulates it – continues unresolved.
The California Public Utilities Commission announced Aug. 17 that it is investigating whether PG&E, in the words of PUC President Michael Picker, is “simply too large to succeed at safety.”
It’s a good question to ask of a multi-billion-dollar virtual monopoly with a history of acting as if the rules don’t apply to it.
But here’s a better one: Is the PUC up to the task of regulating PG&E on behalf of the public? It hasn’t looked that way since San Bruno.
Who’s going to investigate the PUC’s culture and unethical practices? Federal authorities are looking at possibly criminal dealings of the previous president, Michael Peevey, among others, but sizing up institutional culture isn’t their job.
People don’t trust the PUC, and Picker didn’t help when he chose Commissioner Michael Florio to convene hearings this month on how to reform it from within. It was Florio and Peevey who flouted the PUC’s rules to benefit PG&E rather than consumers. Last year Florio admitted to helping PG&E behind the scenes to try to get the utility’s preferred judge to hear a rate case.
He doesn’t seem to have learned much since. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Florio told critics at the end of a PUC meeting this week that the number of ex parte meetings – private discussions with one of the parties in a case before the commission – has dropped dramatically. “It isn’t as common anymore,” he said.
Not as common?
Communications with one side in proceedings are unfair and inappropriate, period. The state Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications committee this spring recommended banning them.
Instead of convening hearings on culture change, the best thing Florio could do to improve the PUC is to resign. Let someone who hasn’t been part of the problem and knows right from wrong run the inquiry.