Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting Government Out of the Way

I keep hearing this from Eric Cantor:  to get the country moving again, we have to "get government out of the way."  By this he means (as he's happy to tell you), less government regulation.  Government regulation is Bad.

California has a classic example of a business which was essentially unimpeded by government regulation.  It's called Pacific Gas & Electric.  For at least the last 50 years, based on the investigation results released today by the National Transportation Safety Board, PG&E has ignored the government's regulations regarding gas pipeline safety and maintenance, including the regulations requiring them to keep records of what pipes they had in the ground and what their condition was.  The net result?  On September 9, 2010, a 54 year old gas pipeline failed in production and produced a fireball that killed 8 people and destroyed a neighborhood.  Because PG&E was too cheap to install automatic shutoff valves, it took 90 minutes to get someone to the site to shut off the gas.  If I recall correctly, the first person they sent didn't know how to turn it off.

The pipeline failed because of a weld which was defective even by the standards of 1956 (according to the NTSB report) - PG&E installed it anyway, and to date has not located any of the records relating to who installed the pipe and where they got it.  Having lost the records, and having been too cheap to do the kind of inspections which would have identified a faulty weld, by September 2010 PG&E believed that the pipe had no welds in it.

I could go on longer about PG&E, but my point is that PG&E appears to have been operating under essentially no regulation.  They managed, under a series of Republican governors, to pack the Public Utilities Commission with retired utility executives (I remember checking their CVs at the time of the blast); and "regulation" of PG&E seems to have gone like this:  PG&E reports some safety fault.  The PUC says, gee, that's bad, you should fix that.  PG&E says, yessir, we'll fix that right away.  End of process.  Nothing was ever fixed.  No fines were ever imposed.  And eight people, and a neighborhood, died.  The neighborhood may be rebuilt.  It's too bad about the people, isn't it?

Remember this the next time you hear the Republican leadership ranting about "getting government out of the way."  I don't want government out of the way.  I want government standing squarely between me and Big Business.  My environment, my health, my life, mean nothing to Big Business when set against their profits.  If this isn't enough of an example, look into the people who are mining coal in Appalachia using a marvellous process called "mountaintop removal", or check out the reports of what fracking is doing to the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

1 comment:

  1. Right on, girl. My sentiments exactly. I wrote about PG&E's culpability in an earlier post.

    But now the company has announced that it will be billing its customers for the "fix-up" it undertook following the recent disaster. Over the last 40 years, it's built up a record worthy of being nationalized. It's probably time to take our gas and electric service over and put them into public control.

    I don't care if it costs a bit more. At least the "profits" would go to pay employees and service people, instead of investors and board-members who have only $$$ in their eyes.