April 16, 2013
Lawmakers to probe CA utilities regulator’s safety commitment
State lawmakers are poised to blast the California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday in light of a scathing report that questions the agency’s commitment to safety.
The report, completed for the PUC by the Folsom-based Business Advantage Consulting, found that the commission’s staff lack the leadership and tools needed to make safety a priority. Staff interviewed by the consultants detailed multiple issues stemming from what they called an “anti-safety” attitude held by the executive director, including “resistance to challenging utilities” and “resistance to leveling fines.”
The 24-page report also blames a workplace culture that gives regulated industries too much “access to the PUC building, documents and personnel” for “sending the wrong message to both staff and regulated industries about accountability.”
“The regulated industries and lobbyists come to the PUC and see how casual the attitude and culture is here,” the report quotes one employee as saying. “As a result; they don’t feel that they have to comply — they are not worried. The message to them is that we are not paying attention.”
An Assembly Budget Subcommittee is set to review the report as part of an update on the commission’s “Safety Culture Change” project, an initiative launched in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline burst. A committee staff analysis included in tomorrow’s agenda says the report “strongly suggests that safety concerns continue to be a secondary priority at the Commission and this message is transmitted from leadership to staff and the utilities it regulates.”
“While the Commission is to be applauded for bringing in a third party to help uncover
and expose its safety culture issues, these findings are not only troubling but may surpass a consultant’s ability to solve,” the committee agenda reads.
The CPUC defended its record in a statement saying it “has made safety an underlying principle in all its actions.” The statement noted that the document is “the result of the informal survey; it is not an analysis of our safety culture or conclusions by our consultants, but a reporting-back of what some employees said in informal focus groups.”
“We will use the results of the report to help us define what we need to change, develop strategies and actions to implement the changes, and ensure accountability as the process continues,” the statement reads.
Tensions between the CPUC and state lawmakers have been especially high in recent weeks. Members of the same committee blasted CPUC officials over its accounting and budget forecasting practices at a March hearing. Another agency official came under fire earlier this month for recording a private staff meeting on the commission’s budget without consent of the other participants. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Senate Budget Committee Chair Mark Leno called that incident, which was deemed illegal by the Legislature’s attorney, “inappropriate and unethical” in a letter to Commission President Michael Peevey.
“We expect that the CPUC will look into this matter and ensure that this, and any other illegal activity, does not happen again – at the State Capitol or in any other setting,” the letter reads.
PHOTO CREDIT: In this Sept. 9, 2010 file photo, a massive fire roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno. Associated Press/Michael Sah.