Seeking a public forum and a conduit for eventual changes to the state's regulation of natural gas pipelines, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Tuesday released a proposal to conduct a broad-based investigation of the fatal Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) transmission pipeline rupture in San Bruno, CA, last September. The proceeding is expected to kick off by mid-year.

The intention is to "consolidate and coordinate" all of the state regulatory efforts that have emerged since the Sept. 9 tragedy, the CPUC said in its draft order.

A vote on the proposal is scheduled for the CPUC business meeting in San Francisco Thursday. The five-member commission is operating with four members, and only two of them -- one being President Michael Peevey -- were around when the incident that killed eight people and destroyed 37 homes occurred. Since the new year, Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed a consumer activist attorney, Mike Florio, and a telecommunications legal expert, Catherine Sandoval, to the commission, which also includes holdover member Timothy Alan Simon, the CPUC gas issues specialist.

The proceeding will be used to consider the recommendations of a state regulators' independent review panel that is investigating the rupture. The panel issued a preliminary report earlier this month and is expected to present its recommendations by mid-year (see Daily GPI, Feb. 11).

Along with considering some new interim rules related to gas pipelines operated by PG&E, Sempra Energy's two utilities and Las Vegas, NV-based Southwest Gas Corp., the proposed rulemaking is targeted on eight diverse objectives. A CPUC spokesperson indicated that those objectives could change and priorities could shift as more information emerges from ongoing federal, state and utility investigations.

The objectives include providing a forum for input from the public. Three public participation hearings will be held in San Bruno, Northern California and Los Angeles.

Other objectives outlined by the state regulators all relate to ways that oversight of the state pipeline system could be strengthened in the areas of (a) adopting safety changes, (b) more comprehensive risk assessment for all gas pipelines, (c) better integration of safety considerations in ratemaking policies, practices and incentives for utilities, (d) balancing the need for more public information on the gas pipeline systems against legitimate security considerations, (e) further protections for whistle blowers to encourage information flow, and (f) more emergency/disaster coordination between the CPUC and local governments.

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