Update Jun 6: A CPUC lawyer who says he was working on the penalty case against PG&E emailed KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler that “he could not personally continue working on the San Bruno penalty briefs because I concluded that the CPSD recommendations that were to be made in the briefs were unlawful and contrary to what our team had worked to accomplish in the last two and a half years.”
The California Public Utilities Commission has reassigned lawyers investigating the San Bruno explosion and fire.
The reassignment comes as the state agency is trying to determine what penalties it wants PG&E to pay.
PG&E operated the gas pipeline that exploded on Sept. 9, 2010, killing eight people, destroying 38 houses and damaging many more.
CPUC spokesperson Terrie Prosper said in a news release that lawyers requested the reassignment, but did not give a reason.
San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane speculated that the attorneys asked to be reassigned because they disagreed with the agency’s position on the penalties.
“I think their recommendations are not being followed by the CPUC,” he told KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler. “That’s my suspicion and my guess.”
Ruane called for an investigation of the CPUC by the California attorney general and the state Legislature.
The CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division has proposed that PG&E be assessed a penalty of $2.25 billion. But instead of paying the money to the general fund, the utility would use the money for safety improvements.
Ruane said PG&E would get tax deductions and credit for improvements it already has made.
“It seems that the upper echelons of the CPUC want to give – I’ll just say it straight – PG&E a free ride,” he said.
Instead, he thinks PG&E should pay a penalty into the state’s general fund. This would serve as a better deterrent to other utilities that might neglect safety, he said.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the lawyers’ reassignment came when the legal team’s leader, Harvey Morris, filed a successful motion challenging PG&E’s estimates of the amount it already had spent on improvements.
The agency’s general counsel, Frank Lindh, ordered the reassignment, the newspaper said. Lindh worked for PG&E from 1996 until 1998.
On Wednesday, the CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division submitted its recommendation to its administrative law judges, whose decisions will come in late summer, the CPUC said.