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Hill: CPUC ignored safety advice
September 25, 2012, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hill's office Kathy DeRenzi, a San Bruno resident, joined Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, at a press conference in San Francisco advocating for increased safety of PG&E transmission lines.

Since the National Transportation Safety Board has no power to enforce its own recommendations, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, crafted legislation that Gov. Jerry Brown signed Sunday that would require the state’s utility watchdog to adopt gas pipeline safety recommendations put forth by the NTSB.

Assembly Bill 578 requires the California Public Utilities Commission to adopt NTSB safety recommendations or, at the very least, to put in writing why the safety recommendations were not followed.

PG&E contends it is doing its part now to make sure the gas pipeline transmission system is safe.

"We learned a lot following the San Bruno tragedy,” PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said. "We are making our system safer every day than the day before to make sure it never happens again.”

Previous NTSB safety recommendations have been mostly ignored by the CPUC, Hill told the Daily Journal yesterday.

He held a press conference in San Francisco yesterday morning touting three bills the governor signed Sunday related to utility safety and compensation, two weeks after the two-year anniversary of the gas pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight and destroyed 38 homes.

If previous NTSB recommendations would have been followed, the tragedy in San Bruno could have been minimized, Hill said.

When NTSB recommendations are ignored, they "serve no purpose,” Hill said.

In the 1990s, the CPUC ignored a recommendation from the NTSB that gas utilities avoid using brittle plastic pipe for transmission lines — the same type of pipe that ruptured and ignited a fire in a Cupertino condominium in August 2011, according to Hill’s office.

AB 578, Hill said, will make the CPUC "do what they were supposed to be doing all along.”

Another of Hill’s bills, AB 1456, requires that the CPUC adopt a stricter system of performance metrics for pipeline safety and that the state’s gas utilities be evaluated against those metrics. Utilities with poor performance results could be fined, Hill said.

"This should create more accountability,” he said.

The third bill, AB 861, focuses on executive bonuses and compensation at the state’s utilities. It requires the CPUC to reevaluate bonus programs at utilities and ensure that executives are paid based on stock price and earnings, not on lower operations costs and trimmed-down maintenance procedures that could compromise safety.

PG&E was putting profit over safety, he said.

"They were cutting corners for profits and bonuses,” he said.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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