- The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted Thursday to investigate the company culture at Pacific Gas & Electric, one of the nation's largest utilities, to see if it contributes to accidents like the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.
- At the same time, the CPUC is failing to comply with a search warrant from the state's Attorney General probing into its relationship with the companies it regulates, the LA Times reports. Court documents filed earlier this August show the agency has not produced documents requested in the warrant served over two months ago.
- In response to the probe, PG&E released a statement saying it has already taken steps to improve company culture and practices since the pipeline explosion, and is looking forward to further improvements. Meanwhile, a CPUC spokesperson told the Times the agency is still reviewing documents for its warrant.
Amid criticism that the CPUC has been too cozy with the companies it is charged to regulate, Chairman Michael Picker said that targeting corporate governance is a new approach for the agency, based in part on similar investigations launched by New York regulators.
“This came out of our discussions after the San Bruno penalty decision,” he said after voting for PG&E probe, according to KQED. “We still saw problems. This examination of a culture is really a fundamental review of what people do, and how they do it, at PG&E.”
The new investigation comes after the CPUC levied the largest regulatory fine in state history against the utility in April for violations of state and federal pipeline safety standards associated with the 2010 explosion, which killed eight and leveled a northern California neighborhood. Total penalties related to the blast amount to more than $2.2 billion, and Picker has indicated that he is concerned that PG&E may be too big to operate safely.
Meanwhile, the CPUC is facing a probe of its own practices related to what critics say were improper communications between it and Southern California Edison (SCE) in the run-up to the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant south of Los Angeles. The plant was taken offline in January 2012 after a faulty steam generator leaked a small amount of radiation, and the CPUC approved a settlement in September 2014 to cover closure costs that left ratepayers on the hook for $3.3 billion.
Earlier this month, a CPUC administrative law judge ruled SCE had engaged with improper communications with regulators as the commission considered the $4.7 billion settlement deal. Email records and other evidence shows that former CPUC head Michael Peevey and SCE executives met to discuss the settlement in Warsaw, Poland, in March 2013. SCE says it believed the meeting was not reportable under commission rules at the time.
PG&E officials were also implicated in an email scandal with regulators after the San Bruno explosion, leading to the dismissal of three executives at the company. While maintaining he did nothing wrong, Peevey stepped down as head of the regulatory body at the end of last year as state agents searched his home and that of former PG&E vice president Brian Cherry.
Now, the LA Times reports that the commission has not complied with a search warrant requesting docments related to the San Onofre closure and communications with SCE. A PUC spokesperson told the paper that the agency isn't stalling, but that it has more than 6 million documents to review and has already turned over 1.5 million for other requests.
“We continue to review and produce documents in the order in which the formal requests were served,” Spokesperson Terrie Prosper told the paper. “The attorney general’s office did not request it to be responded to before any of the other document requests. We will continue to fully comply.”