The mayor of San Bruno, CA — where a natural gas transmission pipeline rupture and explosion killed eight nearly three years ago — on Wednesday called for the California Attorney General’s Office and state lawmakers to investigate replacement of the state regulatory legal team investigating the event.

Mayor Jim Ruane, a critic of the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) handling of the aftermath of the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) pipeline failure, said the CPUC’s entire legal team working on penalty proceedings in the case has resigned from the case; however, the CPUC disputes this.

“The concerted action by these dedicated public servants, who spent the last two-and-a-half years of their careers investigating PG&E and documenting its safety failures, raises serious questions about the propriety of these proceedings and leadership of the CPUC,” Ruane said.

A CPUC spokesperson said that contrary to the city’s allegations, “no CPUC lawyer was fired or resigned. Some of the lawyers working on the penalty consideration cases have asked to be reassigned to other matters, and their requests have been granted.”

Legally, the city and PG&E settled their differences last year (see Daily GPI, March 13, 2012), but the mayor and other elected officials from the area about 10 miles south of San Francisco have continued to question the CPUC, as evidenced by a safety symposium flap that caused state regulators to cancel a two-day program recently (see Daily GPI, April 29).

In a motion to the CPUC, the city expressed concerns about two members of the state regulatory commission and PG&E executives jointly sharing a podium at the scheduled May 7-8 event. The CPUC postponed the gathering until a still-undetermined future date.

Following legal team changes, Ruane again is questioning the CPUC leadership, expressing fears it will “let PG&E off the hook” in the pending cases in which a $2.25 billion penalty is proposed against the combination utility.

Ruane said the five-member commission is poised to “credit” PG&E with $1 billion it claims it has already spent without utility ratepayer support on gas pipeline safety enhancements against the $2.25 billion proposal. Further, the mayor alleged that PG&E will get some $900 million in state and federal tax dedications out of the penalty assessment.

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