Two members of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Tuesday said they were forming a partnership approach to oversee two remaining natural gas pipeline safety proceedings regarding the aftermath of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s (PG&E) 2010 transmission pipe rupture and explosion in San Bruno, CA.

At issue is the state’s Bagley-Keene Open Meeting law, which forbids discussions among a majority of the five-member CPUC when major proceedings are ongoing, as is the case for PG&E. The same restriction applies to discussions with any of the parties in the case.

The restrictions on the regulators add further complexity to a series of CPUC-initiated cases in which PG&E is facing tens of millions of dollars in potential penalties by the CPUC Consumer Protection and Safety Division under new powers to assess utility fine (see Daily GPI, Jan. 31).

In a statement Tuesday, CPUC President Michael Peevey and Commissioner Mike Florio said they would invoke a legal method to avoid issues with the open meeting law by creating a “partnership” on given proceedings — in this case the proceeding to set new pipeline safety/reliability rules and a second proceeding dealing with penalty considerations for PG&E’s pipeline system.

“This means they can confer freely [with one another] without running afoul of the Bagley-Keene law,” said a CPUC spokesperson. Florio is the assigned commissioner on one of the cases, and Peevey is overseeing the second case.

A further backdrop to the Peevey-Florio tandem on these cases is that in the final federal investigation and report on the causes of the San Bruno pipeline failure the CPUC was criticized for failing to provide adequate oversight of the utility’s pipeline integrity management programs (see Daily GPI, Aug. 31, 2011).

The two regulators decided a clarification was needed following the five-member commission’s decision in January to initiate a penalty consideration case regarding the San Bruno incident.

“Although Peevey will serve as assigned commissioner in this phase, the two of us will be working as co-equals,” said Florio. “While we cannot, at this time, know the ultimate outcome of the penalty consideration case, we are committed to jointly develop a recommendation that will be placed before the full commission for ultimate disposition.” Ultimately each member of the CPUC has equal input and impact on the final decision, Florio noted.

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