A California administrative law judge last Friday increased PG&E Corp.'s penalties and fines regarding long-term violations of the Underground Service Alert (USA), aka 811 system.

The judge increased the fines to $110 million from a proposed $65 million settlement, which had been submitted for California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approval by PG&E, the CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division and the Coalition of California Utility Employees.

Of the $110 million in penalties and fines, $66 million is to be directed to PG&E system enhancements to address violations and provide oversight of implementing and managing the  Locate and Mark program. Another $44 million would be for the state’s General Fund.

If the parties agree to the modified settlement within 20 days and no CPUC member requests a review, it would become the final decision.

Under California law, utilities have two working days to locate and mark the location of their underground facilities through the USA 811 system, unless the excavator specifies or agrees to a later deadline. The “Call Before You Dig” process identifies to third-party excavators all underground utility infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines and electric lines.

“The CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division investigation found that PG&E undercounted many thousands of late Locate and Mark tickets from 2012 to 2017; gave the CPUC counts of its late Locate and Mark tickets that it knew were inaccurate; and failed to provide enough trained staff to timely locate and mark underground natural gas pipelines and electric facilities,” regulators noted.

“The problems were not corrected for years and senior management failed to take action even when they became aware of the issues.”

PG&E admitted some tickets “were intentionally falsified and that its failure to properly administer the program may have contributed to 67 dig-ins, including an injury to a City of San Jose employee,” CPUC noted.