Lawmaker Calls on Governor to Fire CPUC President

Sen. Jerry Hill is calling on the governor to hold someone accountable for a “safety crisis” inside the CPUC

By Tony Kovaleski, Liz Wagner and Felipe Escamilla
|  Wednesday, Apr 17, 2013  |  Updated 6:14 PM PDT
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Sen. Jerry Hill is asking Gov. Brown to remove CPUC president Michael Peevey from his post after the Investigative Unit exposed an internal report where high-ranking directors and employees described a culture where safety is not a priority. Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski reports in a story that aired on April 16, 2013.

Sen. Jerry Hill is asking Gov. Brown to remove CPUC president Michael Peevey from his post after the Investigative Unit exposed an internal report where high-ranking directors and employees described a culture where safety is not a priority. Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski reports in a story that aired on April 16, 2013.

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A state senator has asked Governor Jerry Brown to shake up the leadership at the California Public Utilities Commission after the Investigative Unit uncovered a confidential internal document that has raised questions about the state regulatory agency’s commitment to safety.

Sen. Jerry Hill (D)-San Mateo told NBC Bay Area that he is calling on Gov. Brown to remove CPUC president Michael Peevey from the job he has held since his appointment by Gov. Gray Davis in 2002.

“If we want credibility and the integrity of the Public Utilities Commission to be something that we can have with confidence,” Hill said, “the only way that can happen is to change the top. That means changing the leadership. That means changing the president of the Public Utilities Commission.”

The internal report obtained exclusively by the Investigative Unit exposes what some call serious problems inside the CPUC. The 24-page report consists of an informal survey of CPUC employees and high-ranking directors and raises significant questions about the agency tasked with regulating the state’s utilities.

The report was compiled by a private consulting firm hired by CPUC commissioners and included claims that the CPUC does not make safety a priority and accusations of an overly cozy relationship with regulated utilities.

“That’s outrageous and it goes to the culture of the PUC and it goes to the leadership of the PUC in California,” Hill said. “It shows that the culture, that the issue of safety has not been a priority.”

Since the San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010 killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes, lawmakers and the public have challenged the CPUC’s role and reputation. Now, questions are coming from the inside. The report included interviews with high-ranking members of the CPUC and other members of the staff. One quote included, “If we were enforcing the rules, we would not have to worry about a safety culture. If we were holding the utilities accountable and doing what we were supposed to be doing, San Bruno would never have happened.”

“Safety is by far their most important responsibility and they’ve neglected that responsibility and it’s clearly indicated by this report,” Hill said, “and it’s clearly indicated by what we saw in San Bruno.”
Responding to the details of this confidential report and years of frustration dealing with the CPUC, Hill said the time has come to force change in Sacramento.

Requests for comment by Peevey have not been answered.

In a statement submitted to NBC Bay Area after the Investigative Unit broke news of the internal report, the CPUC said:

The CPUC has made safety an underlying principle in all its actions. As we work to instill a corporate culture in our regulated utilities that embraces safety as a tool and an enhancement to their mission, we must ensure we do the same at the CPUC. We have hired consultants to help us in our process of culture change across all the industries we regulate. As part of these efforts, our consultants conducted an informal survey of internal employees to see what they think safety means, how they see their role in safety, and how they think we can do better as an agency. The report is the result of the informal survey; it is not an analysis of our safety culture or conclusions by our consultants, but a reporting-back of what some employees said in informal focus groups. As the report says, “This report is not an evaluation of the objective truth of those views and perceptions.”  We will use the results of the report to help us define what we need to change, develop strategies and actions to implement the changes, and ensure accountability as the process continues.

The confidential report and Sen. Hill’s call for action will likely be the foundation for a meeting between the CPUC and lawmakers on April 17.

If you have a tip for the Investigative Unit email theunit@nbcbayarea.com or call 888-996-TIPS.

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