A lead attorney for California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) who clashed with his bosses last year over lax treatment of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) after the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, has been abruptly fired.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week it learned that Robert Cagen, a 35-year veteran at the PUC, was fired after the agency told an administrative judge on Thursday it would no longer pursue documents from PG&E related to the blast that he had ardently sought.
Cagen did not immediately confirm the firing, which the Chronicle intimated was evidence of an overly cozy relationship between the utility and the agency that regulates it.
At issue were documents related to pressure-testing of the utility’s 6,000-mile pipeline system prior to the natural gas explosion that killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood in the Bay Area town. Critics alleged that PG&E failed to perform routine inspections and tests, did not properly maintain its pipeline infrastructure, and kept incomplete and inaccurate records.
When the PUC asked for the utility’s records in July 2012, PG&E responded that it couldn’t provide the requested information because it was missing data on hundreds of miles of pipelines. It pledged to keep looking, at first, and then last month said it was done.
The state then filed a motion with an administrative judge hearing the case against PG&E to force disclosure of the test records concerning 24,000 segments of pipe covering 435 miles, including documents related to the pipeline that ruptured and blew up in San Bruno.
PUC lawyer Harvey Morris emailed the Chronicle that it stopped chasing after the records because the agency had plenty of information to proceed with actions against the utility and further fighting with PG&E would just slow down the process.
San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson decried the action and echoed the Chronicle when she told the Oakland Tribune, “This is yet another example of the too-cozy relationship between the utility and its regulator.”
The utility settled civil lawsuits for more than $560 million late last year. PG&E also faces fines of up to $2 billion from the state, while federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges. That indictment alleges the company knew that it had repeatedly violated the federal Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act requiring proper maintenance of records, identification of risky pipelines and proper testing and inspections.