Utility head grilled over fatal Calif explosion
SAN BRUNO, CALIF: State lawmakers meeting in the San Francisco suburb where eight people were killed in a natural gas explosion grilled the head of the California Public Utilities Commission Tuesday evening over what they characterized as years of lax oversight of the ruptured pipeline's operator, Pacific Gas & Electric.
Assemblyman Jerry Hill, who represents the city of San Bruno, organized the town hall meeting so his colleagues and residents of the community where 38 homes were destroyed and 55 families remain displaced could get an update on what PG&E and state regulators were doing to prevent a repeat of the Sept. 9 disaster.
"It is not business as usual you are getting," CPUC executive director Paul Clanon said at the start of the gathering, noting that two of the people killed in the blast were a commission employee and her 13year-old daughter. "We are doing a professional job, but it's personal."
Clanon tried to defuse one of the fiercest criticisms since the explosion sent a 2,000degree fireball through a neighborhood unaware that the high-pressure gasline ran under its streets - that PG&E called the pipe "high-risk" in 2007, received permission from the commission to bill ratepayers to upgrade it and then dropped the improvements the next year.
"What it may represent, and that's a question for PG&E, is they went out and got more information about that pipeline and decided that based on their own view of pipeline safety it was better to go back and work on another stretch of pipeline and then to go back to this one," he explained.
Residents in the audience of about 100 people interrupted to ask what had happened to the $5 million the utility had supposedly set aside to work on their pipeline. Clanon said he assumed it had gone "to other pipeline maintenance" but conceded he did not know for sure. -Ap