Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PG&E: A Letter to the Gods

Senator Diane Feinstein
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D. C. 20510

Senator Barbara Boxer
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D. C. 20510

Congresswoman Barbara Lee
2267 Rayburn HOB
Washington, D. C. 20515

February 28, 2011

Honorable Senators Feinstein and Boxer and Congresswoman Lee:

I'm writing to bring your attention to what I believe is an egregious injustice perpetrated against the citizens of California, by California's Public Utility Commission, and specifically against the customers of Pacific Gas & Electric's (PG&E) through its gross neglect. I'm going to use the word “egregious” a lot in this letter. It seems to me that holding people responsible for their egregious gross negligence is once more slipping through the cracks or conveniently overlooked. PG&E's story of neglect began a long time ago when it turned its eyes away from keeping an accurate inventory of its gas lines, maintaining those gas lines and knowing whether those gas lines are welded or one-piece pipes. There is, of course, no telling what else it failed to keep track of. It clearly is not focusing on its primary business. Its eyes are elsewhere, such as dubious political campaigns and voter propositions. And, of course, there is the slap to the face of California citizens when PG&E's CEO and executives take enormous salaries, bonuses and stock options while they neglect their responsibilities.

I am also not going to quibble over specific dates, or number of deaths, or the number of homes that have been destroyed, or the number of times the Public Utility Commission has allowed PG&E to raise its rates, as PG&E claimed, “to maintain its gas lines.” Five million dollars here, ten million there, all to maintain gas lines that it clearly did not do. I'm not going to do the research to find the supporting data. We all know it happened.

Even though the story began long ago, I'm going to pick up the story from last year's 2010 special ballot and election in California. I believe it was in June 2010. In that special ballot, the voters of California were presented with the proposition that, if voter approved, would prevent local communities from obtaining an alternative source of power, other than PG&E, unless communities held their own special election and achieved approval of two-thirds of its voters, a super majority. The ads were blatant lies and deception, essentially saying, “don't let your local government fool you... require two-thirds approval for selecting...” a power company that competes with PG&E. It was all hogwash painted with whitewash. The truth was that a two-thirds vote is not Democracy or democratic. It's was a farce. But, the negligence was that PG&E spent between $40 and $45 million on the farcical campaign while the money it spent on the campaign could have been used to: 1) reduce rates to its customers, or 2) to maintain its gas lines and keep an accurate inventory, or 3) both without raising rates one cent. It turned out that not doing item #2 cost lives.

One thing to note, here. The proposition was not approved by the voters. Do I need to point out that those voters are, in fact, PG&E customers? We can, therefore, deduce that PG&E spent its customers' money on things that its customers did not approve of. We in fact paid for a political campaign that we did not approve of. It seems to me that that is misrepresentation and, perhaps, fraud. It seems to me that that action is suitable cause for a class action law suit. It also seems to me that the Public Utility Commission is grossly negligent in allowing PG&E to fund such a campaign while it is approving rate increases that are intended for specific purposes, such as gas line maintenance.

Everyone also knows what happened only a few months after the special election; a gas line running through San Bruno leaked and exploded. It killed a number of people. It destroyed around fifty homes. It cost the state of California, insurance companies, the county and the city of San Bruno untold, but countable, amounts of money responding to the disaster. It cost human pain that cannot be counted, unless we use some arbitrary statistical amount concocted by PG&E or an insurance company. The investigation into the explosion by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is ongoing. In fact, a quick look at NTSB's investigations into pipe line explosions and leaks shows an astonishing number of them across the nation. Has every Gas and Electric company gone the way of PG&E, neglecting its primary mission for politics?

The situation at PG&E and the PUC stinks to high heaven of fraud, collusion and corruption. PG&E is a chartered corporation, and I presume its charter explains, in much detail, the primary purpose of its business. I also presume that its primary business is not politics or pushing propositions on voters or lying about the ulterior motive of the propositions or about eliminating its competition by deceiving California voters. PG&E is, after all and however much it denies it or wishes it wasn't so, a public utility company. Funding a political campaign is, therefore, a huge conflict of interest.

The situation deserves a complete investigation into PG&E's business practices and the PUCs' members' dealings with PG&E. I would suggest a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation into both PG&E and the PUC. I don't think the NTSB is the only one who should be investigating PG&E.



Governor of California

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