Brown signs gas pipeline safety bills
SAN FRANCISCO -- Assemblyman Jerry Hill was in San Francisco this morning to announce that three bills he authored that focus on natural gas pipeline safety were signed into law over the weekend.
Hill, whose district includes San Bruno -- the site of the deadly gas pipeline explosion in September 2010 -- said the new laws will make natural gas infrastructure around the state safer and more reliable by imposing stricter safety standards on the overseeing body, California Public Utilities Commission.
"This legislation will give the CPUC the tools to regulate the industry," Hill said.
AB 578, one of three bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Sunday, will require the CPUC to adopt gas pipeline safety recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board, which oversees the nation's pipeline infrastructure.
Hill said that in the 1990s, the CPUC ignored a recommendation from the NTSB that gas utilities avoid using brittle plastic pipe for transmission lines -- the same type of pipe that ruptured and ignited a fire in a Cupertino condominium in August 2011.
No one was injured in the blaze, but Hill said that if the CPUC had acted on the NTSB's prior recommendations, the fire and subsequent loss of property likely could have been avoided.
"We need the PUC to do their job, and, frankly, they haven't been, he said.
Another of Hill's bills, AB 1456, requires that the CPUC adopt a stricter system of performance metrics for pipeline safety, and that the state's gas utilities be evaluated against those metrics. Utilities with poor performance results could be fined, Hill said.
The third bill, AB 861, focuses on executive bonuses and compensation at the statues utilities.
It requires the CPUC to re-evaluate bonus programs at utilities and ensure that executives are paid based on stock price and earnings, not on lower operations costs and trimmed-down maintenance procedures that could compromise safety.
Hill said that bill is designed to "chip away" at what he says is a complacent attitude that led to the Sept. 9, 2010, pipeline explosion in San Bruno, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said PG&E has not taken a formal position on any of the bills, but that the utility is working with the CPUC and the NTSB to improve the safety of its system.
"We are committed to working with our regulators in our effort to make our system safer and more reliable throughout our service area," Chord said.
A CPUC spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment this morning.
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