Tag Archives | San Bruno

CPUC Should Fine PG&E, Orrick Law Firm Millions for Gas Pipeline Safety Cover-Up Says City of San Bruno

CPUC Should Sanction and Fine PG&E and its law firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Attorney Joseph M. Malkin in Public Gas Line Safety Cover-up

San Francisco, Calif. – City of San Bruno officials this week called on the California Public Utilities Commission to sanction Pacific Gas & Electric’s legal team for deliberately covering up for PG&E after it used faulty records to determine that two Bay Area pipelines could safely operate – a decision demonstrating the continued problem with PG&E record keeping practices. Bad record keeping was one of the causes of the 2010 PG&E disaster in San Bruno and continues to threaten public safety.

In a filing late Sept. 26 with the CPUC in response to an order to “Show Cause Why It Should Not Be Sanctioned,” San Bruno asked that PG&E’s legal team, including top attorney Joseph M. Malkin of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, be sanctioned for discreetly filing an “errata” – the legal term for a minor correction – on the status of two pipelines, located in San Carlos and Millbrae, nine months after a gas leaked revealed those pipelines. The legal correction was made quietly on the afternoon of on July 3, 2013, a day before the CPUC took off for the July Fourth holiday, as a strategy to hide the fact that PG&E had relied on faulty records to determine the specifications for those pipelines to handle gas at high pressure.

Calling the July 3 filing by Malkin a “brazen and calculated act of damage control,” San Bruno attorneys say PG&E’s latest legal maneuver illustrates PG&E’s ongoing attempts to cover its tracks as it continues to use natural gas pipelines at inappropriate operating pressures, without accurate records and with the same flawed materials that caused a tragic explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight, destroyed 38 homes and damaged scores more.

“Gross negligence and bad recordkeeping by PG&E resulted in a fatal tragedy in our community, and now we’re discovering that PG&E is paying its legal team to perpetuate their deception at the risk of public safety,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “PG&E and its lawyers continue to play Russian roulette with people’s lives, and we are calling on the CPUC to issue sanctions and send the strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated. How many communities must endure tragedy before PG&E and our state utility regulators wake up and put safety first?”

Faulty recordkeeping was found to be a major contributor to the explosion and fire in San Bruno after federal and state investigators found that PG&E had maintained bad or nonexistent pipeline safety records for much of its 1,000+ miles of urban natural gas transmission lines. As a result, state regulators required PG&E to lower pressure on its other Peninsula gas pipelines until safety records could be verified.

In 2011, PG&E declared that the pipeline construction records were accurate for both Line 101, which runs from Milpitas to San Francisco, and Line 147, which runs in the San Carlos area. Based on PG&E’s representations, the CPUC allowed PG&E to increase the pressure back to pre-explosion levels.

In reality, PG&E’s pipelines were not rated to operate at higher pressure, as revealed after an October 2012 corrosion-related leak in San Carlos revealed seams in the pipeline previously not thought to exist. Yet, it took nine months for company attorneys to admit – by way of the subtle errata filing — that the records it had relied on to make that determination were faulty.

At a Sept. 6 hearing at the CPUC, state regulators pressed PG&E attorney Joseph Malkin over the “profoundly troubling” oversight, which occurred despite “the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars for record review and validation.” PG&E now faces fines of up to $250,000 for its mistake, on top of a possible $2.25 billion penalty and fine stemming from the fatal 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno.

San Bruno officials say this is just the latest example of PG&E expending millions on top attorneys – more than $120 million by PG&E’s own admission – to subvert the truth and put profits over people.

At the Sept. 6 hearing, the PG&E legal team was selectively unresponsive to questions posed by the CPUC’s administrative law judges, invoking “attorney-client privilege,” which allowed them to dodge tough questions. Attorneys for San Bruno are asking that the CPUC conclude that PG&E waived its attorney-client privilege.

“Enough is enough. San Bruno will not sit by and watch PG&E willingly take advantage of public trust any longer,” Ruane said. “Three years after tragedy struck our community, we will continue to serve as a vigilant watch dog for public safety so that what happened in our community never happens again anywhere.”

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Did PG&E CEO Tony Earley Lie to Bloomberg News on Bankruptcy Statement on CPUC San Bruno Fine?

 

Did PG&E CEO and Chairman Tony Earley Knowingly Mislead Bloomberg News and Wall Street?

 

Pacific Gas & Electric Company CEO Tony Earley’s statement to Bloomberg News this week has landed the utility executive between a rock and hard place.

The City of San Bruno today criticized statements by the top executive of Pacific Gas & Electric Company who told Bloomberg News on Tuesday that a proposed penalty and fine by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) for the deadly 2010 PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno could force the utility into bankruptcy – statements that contradict the sworn legal testimony of PG&E’s own finance expert.

PG&E Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tony Earley told Bloomberg in a news interview the proposed $2.25 billion penalty and fine for the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion in San Bruno that killed eight, destroyed 38 homes and damaged the community could not be funded with equity alone. He told the news service the penalty would require PG&E shareholders to sell billions in additional stock and, if shares failed to sell, could land PG&E in bankruptcy.

San Bruno city officials said these comments contradict the findings of multiple experts, including PG&E’s own paid finance consultant.

“Mr. Earley’s comments are inconsistent with the company’s own sworn testimony made before the CPUC on March 5 this year,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “PG&E’s own expert said the company has the financial capability to withstand a penalty of this magnitude. We are deeply concerned that these comments could mislead the market, shareholders, and the public, and we hope these were not made in a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the ongoing penalty process.”

Earlier this year, PG&E’s paid expert, Eric O. Fornell of Wells Fargo Securities, said during a penalty proceeding under oath that it was “doable” for PG&E to issue equity or raise enough capital to cover a $2 billion penalty. His statements followed a separate, impartial report by Overland Consulting, independently commissioned by the CPUC in 2012, which similarly found that PG&E would be able to afford a $2.25 billion penalty without hurting its creditworthiness.

Meanwhile, PG&E stock prices remain strong. PG&E Corp.’s second-quarter earnings rose 39 percent as the utility reported stronger revenue and lower charges related to its natural-gas pipeline efforts, among other items.

The company’s solid financial footing and multiple expert findings are partly what guided the $2.25 billion recommendation of the CPUC’s safety division, which issued its revised penalty proposal in July. The proposed $2.25 billion penalty would fund ongoing safety improvements and include a $300 million fine to PG&E shareholders, which is not tax deductible and would be paid directly to the State of California’s general fund. In addition, the proposal also curtails PG&E’s ability to deduct “credits” for safety repairs made since the 2010 explosion and fire – a provision San Bruno has advocated strongly for.

San Bruno officials said they support elements of the CPUC’s proposed penalty, but given the scope and magnitude of PG&E’s misconduct, they are pushing for a penalty of $3.8 billion, which would amount to $2.45 billion in after-tax dollars. This penalty would also fund ongoing safety improvements and give no credits for past expenses. San Bruno based its recommendation on the Overland report, which determined that PG&E could bear a maximum financial consequence of $2.45 billion and remain solvent.

San Bruno said it will also continue pushing the CPUC to direct PG&E to adopt and fund a series of remedial measures that will ensure systemic regulatory change in the future. These include $5 million per year for a “California Pipeline Safety Trust,” an Independent Monitor to make sure PG&E follows its own safety plan in the face of possible lax enforcement and the installation of lifesaving Automated Shutoff Valves.

The CPUC’s five-member commission is expected to issue its final recommendation in coming months.

“As we approach the three-year anniversary of this devastating tragedy, we remain firm in our belief that the only way to prevent future accidents is by penalizing PG&E to the maximum,” Mayor Ruane said. “The independent experts – even PG&E’s – have agreed that PG&E is financially able to weather a penalty of this magnitude—and then some. We are now looking to the CPUC to do the right thing and penalize PG&E in order to send a strong message that public safety cannot be compromised by the bottom line.”

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