By Marc Lifsher
February 27, 2015

In the months after the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, California regulators scrambled to order Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to improve the safety of its aging infrastructure.

Now, new documents show the utility was deeply involved in the process, helping PUC’s executive director write and rewrite the same safety directive it was about to receive.

The emails bolster the evidence of a long-running and chummy relationship between the state’s regulators and its major power companies.
It’s collusion. … The fact that only the offending party was consulted is the essence of a backroom deal. – Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network

That relationship is under scrutiny by the U.S. attorney in San Francisco and the California attorney general’s office. Most of the investigation has centered on state utilities and former PUC President Michael Peevey, who stepped down Dec. 31 after two six-year terms.

But the most recent documents extend to discussions between former PUC Executive Director Paul Clanon, who oversaw the 1,000 commission staff members, and two PG&E vice presidents and their lawyer. They spent three days helping Clanon brainstorm, draft and revise a letter headed for the president of PG&E, Christopher Johns.

The letter was part of the PUC’s formal response to the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the explosion that killed eight people, injured 66 and destroyed 38 houses in the Bay Area community.

PUC and PG&E officials offered no explanation for the newly released emails. PUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the commission is looking into the emails and others “to determine if any laws were broken or if any ethical lapses occurred.”

San Bruno city officials and consumer advocates likened the collaboration to that of a speeding driver who uses a cop’s pen and pad to write his own ticket.
San Bruno

“It’s collusion,” said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, a consumer group that advocates for electric and gas ratepayers at the PUC. “Instead of the regulator setting the limits and holding the company accountable, it’s … letting the company define its own rules…. The fact that only the offending party was consulted is the essence of a backroom deal.”

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