Jackie in the News
Mercury News editorial: PUC president is the last person who should lead San Bruno probe
Michael Peevey is the last person who should lead the investigation into whether to fine PG&E for its role in the San Bruno tragedy. The California Public Utilities Commission president should be ashamed of having appointed himself instead of naming someone objective.
Peevey's lax leadership and his cozy relationship with PG&E are thoroughly documented. He should have resigned as president this past summer after the National Transportation Safety Board exposed the extent of his incompetence. Every day Gov. Jerry Brown leaves him in charge is a disgrace to this administration.
At a minimum, Brown must rescind Peevey's outrageous self-appointment and replace him with somebody trustworthy.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier and Assemblyman Jerry Hill have called on the governor to put new PUC Commissioner Mike Florio in charge of the investigation. Florio would be the perfect choice. He was appointed after the San Bruno blast because of his expertise in gas pipeline safety and his past role as a PUC watchdog. He has pushed PG&E to put safety before profits, and he had no part in the PUC decisions that allowed safety to slip.
Last week, for the first time in a decade, the PUC fined PG&E for a pipeline safety lapse -- but that's because a new rule allows the staff to levy fines without going to the commission first. We have no faith that Peevey will be open to penalties, since he fundamentally has supported PG&E's
business conduct over the years. If he does recommend a big fine, the speculation goes, it will be to salvage his legacy. Either way, nobody will trust that his conclusion is fair.
Peevey's supporters say this is all moot because the full commission will vote on these penalties. But the president of the PUC has a lot of control over the workings of the commission, so it's unlikely that individual commissioners will go against him.
Peevey's latest stunt is another reason to back Sen. Leland Yee's new bill, SB 1000, which would make the PUC subject to the state's Public Records Act, which already applies to nearly every other state agency. In fact, it's amazing this hasn't been done before now. California is one of only a handful of states in which the agency regulating public utilities doesn't have to let anyone see materials unless the commission agrees. Even today, the PUC reportedly is blocking individuals from finding out precisely where pipelines go through their communities and is hindering reporters from investigating the agency. How's that for building public trust? Residents should be able to see any document or audit created by the PUC unless it compromises public security.
The system today breeds a culture of secrecy and distrust, and Peevey sustains that culture by keeping a stranglehold on the leadership and on the facts. Short of naming somebody within PG&E itself, it's hard to imagine a worse choice to take charge of the penalty phase of the San Bruno investigation.
Speier and Hill shouldn't stand alone. Other local, state and federal elected officials should be demanding that Florio take charge of the penalty phase. And they should all join the chorus demanding that Peevey resign as president.
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