A San Mateo legislator is crying foul over a last-minute motion filed by the California Public Utilities Commission to suspend hearings over PG&E's penalties and pipeline upgrade costs in the wake of the infamous 2010 San Bruno explosion.
State regulators and the energy giant, however, say they merely want to put the hearings on hold for a month so they can focus on finishing concurrent settlement negotiations also related to the gas pipeline blast that destroyed a San Bruno neighborhood, killing eight people and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage.
Assemblyman Jerry Hill asserts that the PUC motion, filed with Administrative Law Judge Mark Wetzell just minutes before the close of business Friday, will have the effect of taking pipeline talks behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny.
Hill has scheduled a 9 a.m. news conference Monday morning along with San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane at the PUC's San Francisco office, where they will call on the judge to reject the request. The event will occur just before Wetzell is scheduled to discuss the motion with attorneys from the PUC, PG&E, and other stakeholders, such as the city of San Bruno.
The PUC filing asks the judge to postpone until Nov. 1 the ongoing evidentiary hearings pertaining to penalties levied against PG&E and the costs of upgrading and improving maintenance for the pipeline system that catastrophically failed two years ago.
The PUC says without "the distraction of ongoing litigation," the municipalities and parties involved in settlement negotiations might reach resolution soon. But the agency gave itself some wiggle room, saying that even with these focused talks, they might not come to an agreement.
"The requested suspension of all procedural dates and activities will provide time and space in the participants' schedules to allow negotiations to proceed unimpeded with the distraction of ongoing litigation," the filing states. "While there is no guarantee a negotiated solution will emerge, it is clear the effort would be worthwhile."
Hill's office is skeptical of the timing and purpose of the motion, saying not only would the ongoing hearings be postponed, but so would a decision on how much PG&E customers will be on the hook for regarding the $5 billion estimated cost of pipeline upgrades over the next four decades.
"We were fearful they were going to try and do this," said Aurelio Rojas, Hill's communications director. "They were trying to sneak this through."
Terrie Prosper, PUC spokeswoman, dismissed the idea of clandestine motives.
"Regardless of when the filing was made," Prosper wrote in an email, "parties will have the opportunity to provide input before a decision is made."