Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Yes, Maw"

When I was small, my grandmother lived with us for a while - Dad's mother.  Grandma was a nervous and fussy woman, always telling Dad what he ought to do.  My 40-odd year old father would listen quietly, say, "Yes, Maw," and then do what he was going to do all along.

Which brings me, I'm sorry to say, to P G & E.  Today's S.F. Chronicle had yet another article making it appallingly clear that P G & E has not a single clue on the condition of the gas transmission pipelines they have in the ground.  Furthermore, they deliberately choose to use the least expensive, least disruptive, least effective method of gas pipe "inspection," which failed to identify any problems in the line that blew a big hole in a San Bruno neighborhood last fall.  It looks remarkably like the explosion was caused by a weld failure, to which P G & E's response was, "Oh, there was a weld in that pipe?"

And the PUC lets them do it.  They have never been fined.  The PUC spouts boilerplate about "cooperation" and "safety," but it comes down to this:   P G & E has trained the PUC to accept a "Yes, Maw" response about safety and pipeline inspection.  As long as they say, "Oh, yes, we're working on that," the PUC does nothing. 

How did they do that?  Whom do they know?  Is it fair to ask, whom did they pay off?  Or is this just the general Republican feeling that less regulation is more?  According to the list at the Renewable Energy Accountability Project site, all the existing PUC commissioners were either appointed or reappointed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.  They also all worked either in or for major public utilities.  There isn't a single board member who could be considered consumer oriented.  Maybe Jerry Brown can do something about that.

It doesn't have to be this way.  I can't remember the exact article, but I read at least one in which they said that something like 20-30% of P G & E's pipelines have been upgraded so they can be inspected by "smart pigs," while 87% of Southern California Edison's pipelines can be scanned by "smart pigs."  Since they're both regulated by the PUC, the difference has to be in the company management's attitude.  P G & E would have to pay money to upgrade those pipelines, and the security of their customers clearly isn't worth any money to them.

When the San Bruno disaster happened, I said to a friend, "This could be any of us."  It still could.  And we have no choice, because P G & E is a monopoly.  If it were a regulated monopoly, we might have a chance to have our safety considered; but it isn't regulated, any more than my father was regulated by Grandma.  "Yes, Maw" is not an acceptable answer.


  1. Paula says: "I'm a Big Government liberal and I'm proud to live in a state that has regulation."

  2. Aunt Stanbury, I'm a Big Government liberal too and I wish I did live in a state that had regulation!