SAN BRUNO -- Mothers of victims killed in the PG&E pipe blast and local leaders called on Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday to fire the state's top utility regulator for "backroom" dealing with the company over its fine for the explosion.
Rene Morales and Susan Bullis, standing side by side in a fire station less than a mile from the blast site, said Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey committed an "injustice" by pushing the negotiations. Their criticism was the latest salvo in a furor growing since the PUC moved to suspend a public hearing on the Sept. 9, 2010, blast that killed eight and hire a mediator to hammer out a settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric.
"We can't stand by and be quiet about it. We have to say something when we see bias and closed door actions without the transparency that was promised to us," said Bullis, who lost her son, Will, husband, Greg, and mother-in-law, Lavonne, in the explosion.
Morales, whose 20-year-old daughter, Jessica Morales, died in the fire, said the recent negotiation moves have caused her, "nothing but pain."
Blast survivors, watch dogs and local leaders are concerned the negotiations will be another example of the regulator pulling its punches in policing PG&E. One concern is the utility could end up paying a smaller fine if the public process isn't completed.
The PUC didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment. It was not clear when, if ever, a
A spokesman for Brown said: "We have confidence that the PUC will faithfully discharge their duties to zealously guard the public interest and get to the bottom of any injustice raised by the San Bruno pipeline explosion."
PG&E said it expects to pay at least $200 million in fines for the blast, though a recent report said the utility's parent company can afford $2.5 billion in penalties. State and federal regulators say the company made numerous errors that led to the blast, including shoddy records.
San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane said he would ask his City Council on Tuesday to approve a resolution calling for Peevey's removal. San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine said he'll do the same with his colleagues. Blast survivors had collected 295 signatures as of Monday afternoon advocating for Peevey's firing.
Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said Peevey has received thousands of dollars from utilities, including PG&E, for "junkets." He also helped create a foundation to collect money from utilities he was supposed to be policing, Hill said.
The push for Peevey's firing has been growing since an arm of the PUC asked a judge Oct. 5 to suspend a public regulatory hearing to allow time for settlement talks. Their request was granted and the hearing, which is to help determine PG&E's fine, are off at least until Nov. 1.
The furor was further fanned when PUC officials announced former Sen. George Mitchell was tapped to oversee the talks. San Bruno, the PUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates and The Utility Reform Network said PG&E, which is paying Mitchell and his firm DLA Piper, had an undue influence over the selection process.
Peevey has defended the transparency of the settlement efforts.
"The commissioners, all of us here, have to consider (a settlement) in public and on the record," he said at the Oct. 11 PUC meeting. "No one will be shut out. Every voice will be heard."
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-345-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.