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Before the Public Utilities Commission of the State of California
Order Instituting Investigation on the Commission's Own Motion into the Operations and Practices of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Regarding the Gas Explosion and Fire on December 24, 2008 in Rancho Cordova, California.
PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION NOVEMBER 19, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO OFFICE
ORDER INSTITUTING INVESTIGATION
AND NOTICE OF HEARING
By this order, the Commission institutes a formal investigation to determine whether the named Respondent, Pacific Gas and Electric Company ("PG&E"), violated any provision or provisions of the California Public Utilities Code, Commission general orders or decisions, or other applicable rules or requirements in regards to its gas service and facilities, pertaining to a gas explosion and fire that occurred on December 24, 2008 in Rancho Cordova, California. The Respondent is PG&E, a privately owned public utility, subject to the safety and rate jurisdiction and regulation of this Commission, and to California law and the Commission's general orders, rules, and decisions. The Commission enforces law that sets forth safety requirements pertaining to the design, construction, testing, operation, and maintenance of utility gas gathering, transmission, and distribution piping systems, and for the safe operation of such lines and equipment.
This order provides notice that the Commission will set a hearing to determine whether Respondent PG&E has violated the general orders, statutes, decisions, or other applicable authority pertaining to PG&E gas service and the gas explosion and fire that occurred on December 24, 2008, in a residential neighborhood of Rancho Cordova, California. This order also directs Respondent PG&E to respond to certain questions and provide specified information to the Commission.
This Commission seeks here to address both the past and the future. By that we mean we have responsibilities both to address possible past violations of law resulting in unsafe utility practices with respect to PG&E's gas facilities, and to ensure that future PG&E practices comply fully with the law and are safe to the public and to PG&E's employees. Under California Public Utilities Code § 451: "Every public utility shall furnish and maintain such adequate, efficient, just, and reasonable service, instrumentalities, equipment, and facilities ... as are necessary to promote the safety, health, comfort, and convenience of its patrons, employees, and the public." The Commission is also charged with responsibilities under Public Utilities Code §761 to correct and prevent unsafe utility practices. In addition, the Commission is certificated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration ("PHMSA") in the United States Department of Transportation pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 60105, because the Commission has adopted the federal pipeline safety standards, 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Parts 190, 191, 192, 193, and 199, including all revisions to the federal pipeline standards. See Commission General Order 112-E, §§ 104.1 and 181. Therefore, the Commission possesses authority to enforce the federal pipeline safety standards, as well as state pipeline safety requirements, through penalties and/or injunctive relief. We intend to consider information learned in this investigation to enhance PG&E safety and the general good of California. The Commission also intends to ascertain whether PG&E management policies and practices contributed towards violations of law, and the Rancho Cordova explosion and loss of life. If this proves to be affirmative, this agency expects to hold PG&E responsible under the law for statutory penalties and/or other appropriate relief. We also place PG&E on notice that CPSD alleges violations that CPSD appears to assert are daily violations that occurred over long periods of time, and that CPSD asserts caused or contributed to a person's death. The Commission also intends to ascertain whether additional or different measures that PG&E has put into place are necessary or appropriate to avoid future gas explosions and fires that place life and property at risk.
The Commission also wishes to establish promptly whether PG&E agrees to reimburse the state for the cost accrued by the Commission's Consumer Protection and Safety Division ("CPSD") for its Rancho Cordova investigation and its prosecution of it. From the facts presented to the Commission, we see no justification for taxpayers to bear these costs. If PG&E disagrees, PG&E should provide its support for a contrary view.