Following through on doubts raised earlier in the year (see Daily GPI, April 10), California regulators on Monday issued a proposal that could result in an internal investigation of the safety commitment and culture within Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E).

The five-member California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) would attempt to determine through its regulatory investigative unit whether PG&E’s “organizational culture and governance prioritize safety and adequately direct resources to promote accountability and achieve safety goals and standards.” CPUC members may vote on the proposal at their next meeting Aug. 27.

Noting that the regulatory body, which has been under fire from consumer groups and elected official for allowing safety lapses (see Daily GPI, Oct. 30, 2013), is trying to strengthen its safety efforts, a commission spokesperson said the CPUC expected the same effort from the utilities it regulates.

A San Francisco-based PG&E spokesperson said the utility looks forward to having “a constructive dialogue” with the CPUC and its staff, and “to sharing our commitment to safety and the concrete actions we have taken over the last several years to back it up.” The utility has “made incredible progress” toward the goal of being the nation’s “safest, most reliable” energy provider.

Despite the utility’s continuing public pronouncements, CPUC regulators said accidents and events affecting safety “have continued to occur.

“As such, the CPUC is considering this investigation to determine whether PG&E’s persistent issues are rooted in organizational culture and governance, and what PG&E Corp.’s role is in the [utility] safety culture.”

If a majority of the five regulators decides to move ahead, the CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division would evaluate the utility and the corporation’s overall culture, governance, policies, practices and accountability metrics regarding utility operations, including records of safety incidents. The probe would cover the PG&E board and executive leadership, including executive compensation.

The regulators said that depending on what the safety probe turns up, new orders and conditions could be imposed on the PG&E utility operations. They also said the investigation, if undertaken, would not review specific incidents, such as the deadly September 2010 San Bruno gas transmission pipeline failure and explosion, which have been examined.

Under the pending proposal, the safety division also would have authority to retain outside expert consultants to assist the probe and ultimate report with a budget up to $2 million.