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California Regulators Question Utility's Safety Commitment

California regulators on Thursday ordered the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. utility to improve its "safety culture" after questioning the safety qualifications of top executives.

California regulators on Thursday ordered the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. utility to improve its "safety culture" after questioning the safety qualifications of top executives.

The California Public Utilities Commission gave the San Francisco-based company until July 1 to implement 60 recommendations from an independent consultant hired to examine Pacific Gas & Electric's safety practices.

The five-member commission unanimously voted for the order during a chaotic meeting in San Francisco briefly disrupted by protesters chanting several slogans including "Justice for Paradise," referencing the Northern California city destroyed by a Nov. 8 wildfire.

California authorities are investigating whether PG&E's equipment started the fire. The commission adjourned the meeting for about five minutes until the California Highway Patrol escorted the protesters from the meeting.

The agency ordered the audit after a PG&E pipeline exploded in 2010, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes in a San Francisco suburb.

"Evidence shows that, although there are a few bright spots, PG&E appears not to have a clear vision for safety programs and instead pursues many programs without thought to how they fit together, commission President Michael Picker said.

Picker said he plans a sweeping review of the publicly traded company's corporate structure after the commission rejected PG&E's defense that three board members had "significant safety expertise" after their qualifications were questioned.

"This commission wants PG&E to have a genuine and effective safety culture that permeates the organization, not just a thin veneer or window dressing that superficially looks good but fails under stress," the decision adopted Thursday stated.

The utility said Thursday it has already adopted many of the recommendations and is committed to implementing the others.

"We believe we have made significant progress, but we also recognize there's always more work to do to achieve our mission to provide safe, reliable, affordable, and clean energy," spokeswoman Jennifer Robison said.

The order adds to the utility's mounting woes. State investigators blame PG&E's equipment for starting 17 wildfires last year and it faces $15 billion in damages and cleanup costs and faces numerous related lawsuits. Investigators are still determining the cause of several other 2017 Northern California wildfires that could increase the company's liabilities if it's held responsible for those blazes.

Meanwhile, PG&E could face billions more in damages if investigators determine its equipment started the state's most destructive wildfire that destroyed Paradise. PG&E told the PUC that a transmission line experienced problems near the origin of the fire at about the same time the blaze started.

State fire officials have not determined the cause of that fire, which killed at least 88 people and destroyed more than 11,000 homes. Still, victims have filed several lawsuits alleging the company's equipment caused the fire and its stock value has plummeted 45 percent. The company's share price fell 70 cents, or 2.55 percent, to close at $26.76 in Thursday trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Source: Associated Press)

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