CPUC Safety Award Questioned

CPUC president Michael Peevey accepts safety award from union representing PG&E

A union that represents utility workers at companies including PG&E honored CPUC president Michael Peevey for his commitment to safety at the state capitol Monday night. Peevey is scheduled to vote later this year on the size and details of the penalty for PG&E’s role in the San Bruno pipeline explosion in Sept. 2010.

The invitation to the event put on the by the Coalition of California Utilities Employees (CCUE) stated: “A special presentation will be made to Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission in recognition of his dedicated public service and his tireless work on system reliability and safety.”

An award for Peevey’s service and dedication to safety doesn’t sit well with San Bruno resident Rene Morales. Her daughter Jessica was one of the eight people killed in the San Bruno explosion.

“I find it appalling that he is going to be receiving an award for anything related to safety,” Morales said the morning of the legislative reception honoring Peevey. “He is getting an award for something he has no understanding of.”

In fact, a confidential internal CPUC document first uncovered by the Investigative Unit in April exposed that some high-ranking staff members questioned the agency’s commitment to safety under Peevey. It includes claims that the CPUC does not make safety a priority and accusations of an overly cozy relationship with regulated utilities.

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit questioned Peevey about his decision to accept the award at the capitol on Monday evening. When asked if he thinks it is appropriate to receive an honor for safety before deciding on PG&E’s penalty for San Bruno, Peevey told Chief Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski, “This is the electrical workers union. They invited me. They chose to honor me. I am more than pleased to be with them. That’s all I have to say to you.”

When asked if he could tell the people of San Bruno what he has done in the name of safety Peevey responded, “the record is pretty clear,” but offered no additional details.

In a room filled with lobbyists, lawmakers and several PG&E employees, CCUE lobbyist Scott Wetch made a short speech about Peevey’s dedication to California’s utility employees and presented him with a silver hardhat.

Peevey thanked Wetch for the award and tried on the hardhat, commenting, “It’s a little big. I have a big head.”

Later that night NBC Bay Area asked Wetch if the award compromised Peevey’s objectivity in his oversight role with PG&E.

“I don’t believe so,” he said, denying that the union is trying to buy influence by honoring him. Wetch also said that his union has supported a significant penalty for PG&E and shot down any notion that it is inappropriate for Peevey to have accepted an award for safety in the shadow of the San Bruno explosion.

“This is a slap in the face,” Morales said. “This is humiliation for the death of my daughter who died in San Bruno that day. [Peevey] is the president of California Public Utilities Commission and in general, he hasn’t taken that responsibility seriously. And it hurts; breaks my heart to know that he is going to be recognized for safety.”

Following the reception Peevey was escorted out a side door, apparently trying to avoid NBC Bay Area’s cameras and questions. He turned back only once to address Kovaleski saying, “I find you extremely insulting.”

This interaction comes a month after the Investigative Unit questioned Peevey in Napa. The CPUC president opted to keep a prior commitment at an exclusive winery instead of answering questions from senators in Sacramento.

If you have a tip about the CPUC or any other story, email theunit@nbcbayarea.com or call 888-996-8477.

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