Request to delay PG&E hearings blasted

Getty Images File PhotoPG&E is also being sued by victims of the San Bruno blast despite the utility claiming they shouldn't have to pay punitive damages to victims because they didn't know that the pipeline was faulty.

Getty Images File PhotoPG&E is also being sued by victims of the San Bruno blast despite the utility claiming they shouldn't have to pay punitive damages to victims because they didn't know that the pipeline was faulty.

A San Mateo County lawmaker is criticizing a request by utility regulators to delay four separate California Public Utilities Commission inquiries related to the deadly San Bruno pipeline blast.

Last week, the commission’s Consumer Protection Safety Division petitioned to postpone the hearings until Nov. 1 to allow for settlement negotiations between the agency and PG&E, the company responsible for the 2010 incident. The division’s motion said the need to prepare for ongoing evidentiary hearings was “impeding the ability of the parties to engage fully” in settlement negotiations.

The request addressed three separate commission hearings into PG&E’s record keeping, its labeling of natural gas transmission lines, and its handling of the San Bruno blast that killed eight people and destroyed 70 homes, CPUC spokesman Andrew Koch said. The motion also sought to delay a broader statewide inquiry into natural gas pipeline safety standards, Koch said.

One of the four administrative law judges presiding over those hearings agreed to consider the motion and suspended his hearings until Monday. But Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who has been highly critical of the utility and the regulators who oversee it, said the request is “shameful.”

“There’s no justification for it, no rationale for it, no information that would warrant that,” he said. “It seems very obvious the PUC and PG&E are trying to prevent testimony of scheduled witnesses for hearings, and attorneys for the PUC and PG&E have something to hide.”

PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said the utility company hopes to reach a settlement, which could include monetary penalties or further pipeline safety regulations.

“Negotiations were always taking place,” Chord said. “We have always supported these discussions and negotiations toward a settlement in all three investigations.”

PG&E also is being sued by numerous victims in a civil case expected to go to trial by the end of the month. The move to postpone the investigative hearing came days after the utility filed a legal motion in that case arguing that it should not have to pay punitive damages to victims of the blast because it didn’t know its pipeline was faulty.

Hill, however, said the utility ignored warnings and should be liable to the victims.

“All you have to do is look at the August filing by the Consumer Protection and Safety Division,” Hill said. “It outlines a detailed timeline of action taken by PG&E starting in 1967 that shows they knew about the problems.”

Chord, though, said the company is doing its best to work with the victims.

“Our priority remains making sure we’re working with the families that were affected by this tragedy and the community and that we’re working to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again,” Chord said.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsCalifornia Public Utilities CommissionJerry HillLocalPeninsula

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