San Bruno explosion leads to call for greater scrutiny

October 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
California lawmakers investigating a deadly pipeline explosion may need to change state law to increase penalties when utilities ignore problems that lead to injuries or death.

Jessica Morales was one of eight people who died when a fire ripped through a San Bruno neighborhood after a natural gas transmission line exploded last month.

The 20-year-old's mother pleaded with state lawmakers to do more to protect citizens from the thousands of miles of gas lines underneath so many California homes.

The father of Jessica's boyfriend wiped away tears as he heard about the girl's promising life. "I hope and pray that in the investigation, we will learn from the facts we need to make the changes so that this will never happen again," the victim's mother, Rene Morales said.

But more than a month after the explosion, PG&E told lawmakers it still doesn't know what happened & the line was supposed to be fine until 2013.

"We don't know what caused, what is the root of the San Bruno incident. And when we do that cause, we will work that into all the work that we do at PG&E and I am sure other utilities do, to ensure that those things never happen again," PG&E Vice President of Gas Operations Kirk Johnson said.

Lawmakers suggested California's regulatory agencies don't do a good enough job of overseeing utility companies. The state Public Utilities Commission approved a $5 million rate hike years back to fix the line that eventually ruptured.

"What did they do with the $5 million you gave them in 2007?" State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, asked during the hearing.

"It's my understanding they used it on another higher priority project," Richard Clark from the California Public Utilities Commission said.

"Is that what we do? We just give them the money and cross our fingers and hope they fix it?" Florez asked.

"It's up to them to manage the money," Clark said.

"You say it's up to them, and I have some questions regarding that type of regulatory approach," Florez said.

Lawmakers may soon introduce legislation to improve pipeline safety, including bigger penalties when utilities ignore problems and better oversight of decisions made by the PUC about which sections of pipeline need urgent repair.


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