Findings strongly support Herrera’s July 14 notice of intent to sue CPUC, PHMSA regulators
SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 30, 2011) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera has issued the following statement in reaction to today’s National Transportation Safety Board meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss and adopt the pipeline Accident Report relating to the natural gas pipeline explosion and fire that occurred in San Bruno, Calif. on September 9, 2010.
“NTSB’s report offers a devastating indictment, not just against PG&E, but also the California Public Utilities Commission and federal regulators for their failure to reasonably enforce safety standards,” Herrera said. “These conclusions point to the lax regulation that has enabled PG&E to flout regulations and safe gas pipeline operating practices for decades. NTSB’s report thoroughly supports my office’s allegations in my notice of intent to sue and in our comments to the CPUC. It makes clear that both agencies have a great deal of work to do to better regulate gas transmission pipelines and protect public safety. I commend the NTSB staff for its thorough investigation and comprehensive findings, and NTSB members for unflinchingly adopting the staff’s recommendations.”
More than half of the recommendations adopted by the NTSB today are directed at government entities — including CPUC, DOT, PHMSA, and the Governor of California. NTSB has indicated its intent to publish its synopsis of findings, probable cause, and recommendations at the following URL following today’s meeting:
On July 14, 2011, Herrera took the first step toward suing the California Public Utilities Commission and federal regulators for not reasonably enforcing gas pipeline safety standards as required by the federal Pipeline Safety Act. The notice of intent to sue is a legally-required precursor to civil litigation by San Francisco, which will seek a federal court order to compel the CPUC and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to enforce federal pipeline safety standards in an effective manner.
PG&E runs three major gas transmission lines — including the very same line that failed catastrophically in San Bruno last year, and another that dates back to the 1930s — under nine high-population-density neighborhoods in San Francisco where hundreds of thousands of people live and work, according to Herrera’s 14-page letter. Major facilities threatened by the failure of these inadequately inspected transmission lines include numerous schools and recreation centers, San Francisco City College, and San Francisco General Hospital, which typically contains more than 5,000 acute care patients and visitors, medical professionals and staff. Significant stretches of Highway 101 and Highway 280 additionally run over the antiquated lines.
Herrera’s July 14, 2011 notice letter outlines San Francisco’s prospective legal action, detailing the manner in which CPUC and PHMSA: (1) failed to enforce federal regulations mandating that pipeline operators maintain adequate records to enable the operator and regulators to ensure that pipeline conditions are not a threat to public safety; (2) failed to enforce federal regulations requiring that gas transmission pipeline operators identify all “high consequence areas” in which pipeline failure would result in significant harm to people and damage to property; (3) failed to enforce federal regulations mandating inspections of gas transmission pipeline integrity for pipelines susceptible to manufacturing and construction defects or other risks; (4) failed to ensure that CPUC had staff sufficient in number, training, and experience to adequately fulfill its obligations to regulate and enforce pipeline safety regulations; (5) failed to ensure that integrity management inspections of gas transmission pipelines in California are performed with sufficient frequency and thoroughness to ensure pipeline safety; and (6) failed to require PG&E to correct violations found in audits of PG&E’s integrity management practices.
PDF of the Notice of Intent to Sue the CPUC and PHMSA (July 14, 2011)