The California legislature passed a series of natural gas pipeline safety measures before adjourning its legislative session Friday, while measures on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and renewable energy were left on the table by lawmakers.
As regulatory and public pressure on Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) continued to build at the Sept. 9 anniversary of the San Bruno gas transmission pipeline rupture and explosion, state lawmakers passed PG&E-backed pipeline safety measures (SB 44 and SB 216) that strengthen the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) oversight of intrastate gas pipelines in accordance with stepped up federal regulations.
Two other bills (AB 56 and SB 705) also passed in the final day of the session. Those measures deal with pipeline integrity, maintenance and record keeping of operations at different levels of detail, along with the use of automatic and remote-controlled valves.
The legislative action came amid outbursts from environmental groups that clean energy was “short changed” by the state legislature this year, and warnings about PG&E “profiting” from the San Bruno tragedy and the CPUC President Michael Peevey needing to be replaced.
Environment California, a Sacramento-based environmental advocacy group, criticized state lawmakers for failing to extend the state’s 10-year-old Public Goods Charge, a monthly surcharge on energy utility bills to support energy research and development, including renewable energy programs. Two bills (AB 724 and SB 870) aimed to extend the charge another 10 years, and it received strong backing from Gov. Jerry Brown, who characterized the measure as a job-creating program.
Instead, the legislature chose to pass an extension of the self-generation incentive program (AB 1150), extending an existing $83 million annual program through 2014. No action was taken on fracking.
The utility consumer watchdog group, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), called for Peevey to be replaced and for the CPUC to not allow PG&E to earn a profit on the estimated $2 billion pipeline safety implementation plan that it filed last month with the state regulatory commission. Citing a recent federal National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that Brown examine the CPUC’s ability to regulate pipelines (see Daily GPI, Aug. 31), TURN Executive Director Mark Toney charged PG&E with having an “inadequate safety record” for years before the San Bruno incident.
Under SB 44 the CPUC is mandated to hold a statewide proceeding to establish upgraded emergency response standards for pipeline operators, and that is one of two regulatory proceedings now ongoing. B 216 will require pipeline operators to install automatic shutoff or remote-control sectionalized block valves in high consequence areas and areas of active earthquake faults.
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