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New Pipeline Safety Bills Enacted in California

California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law four pipeline safety bills that in part deal with the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion. He also signed a half-dozen other energy-related bills in the final days of September.

AB 2564 would facilitate the pipeline enhancement programs (see NGI, March 5) proposed by California's major intrastate pipeline operators -- Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and Sempra Energy's two utilities, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E). The new law exempts the pipeline safety work through 2017 from certain environmental-related local agency fees and requirements. The law also streamlines the environmental review requirements and fees for gas pipeline work of a mile or less in length.

"AB 2564 expedites pipeline maintenance and replacement, complies with permits required by local governments, and respects the environment in an effort to prevent the San Bruno catastrophe, which claimed the lives of eight residents and injured many others, from happening again," said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), the bill's author.

Three other pipeline bills signed into law were authored by San Bruno state Assemblyman, Jerry Hill. The bills will put more specific requirements into the law governing the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding the state commission's responsiveness to federal National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) requirements (AB 578) and the CPUC's establishment of a pipeline safety metric to measure the effectiveness of gas utilities' pipeline safety efforts in establishing their overall rate structure (AB 1456).

"AB 578 requires the CPUC to adopt gas pipeline safety recommendations of the NTSB if those recommendations are appropriate to California utilities," Hill said. "The CPUC may decide not to do so, but it must submit those reasons in writing as a part of the [regulatory] commission's record of proceedings." As for AB 1456, Hill indicated it mandates that the CPUC "adopt performance metrics for pipeline safety and evaluate the state's gas utilities against those metrics." State regulators "may levy penalties on the utility for poor performance."

Brown also signed into law AB 1966 related to oil and natural gas drilling, and AB 2005, which deals with liabilities for oil spills. AB 1966 sets notification timelines and information content that drilling companies are required to give to landowners on which the work will take place to beef up current notification requirements. AB 2005 requires through 2013 that nontank oil-containing vessels provide the state with financial, safety and environmental information.

Last Thursday the governor also signed a state-federal energy security coordination bill (SB 1409), expanding what he called "a clean energy partnership" between California and U.S. military installations in the state, involving he use of private-sector research and development firms helping enhance energy security at the federal military posts. This was one of more than a dozen energy related bills signed with the others dealing with renewable energy, climate change and net metering programs.

Meanwhile, Brown signed a third bill (AB 861) that prohibits utilities from using ratepayer money for executive bonuses based on company earnings or stock price and instead requires that bonuses be paid using shareholder profits. Hill argued that "utilities are not normal corporations, and therefore "they cannot increase their profit by increasing market share or selling more product." And the enacted AB 1650 adds to requirements and regulatory oversight for the CPUC regarding energy and water utility emergency and disaster preparedness plans.

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