The Wall Street Journal published a comprehensive article on 5th September 2019 regarding; U.S. PG&E’s Long Record of Run-Ins With Regulators, outlining PG&E long history of breaking the law with impunity. The Wall Street Journal identified repeated instances over 25 years in which PG&E misled regulatory authorities, withheld required information, didn’t follow through on promised improvements, engaged in improper back-channel communications with regulators or obstructed an investigation. The company has paid more than $2.6 billion in state and federal penalties and lawsuit settlements in such cases. While the penalty came to less than $1 million in about a half-dozen of the incidents, it was much more in other cases, some of them involved death and heavy property destruction, and regulators consider all violations that involve safety to be serious matters.
PG&E has now filed for bankruptcy, for the second time in two decades, for its role in causing wildfires. The company estimates its potential liability from these claims alone at more than $30 billion. The company has long played its own regulatory game, according to its own rules. Several close observers of PG&E said they witnessed a pattern of conduct over the years that troubled them because it seemed to violate norms of behavior for California utilities. “PG&E, in comparison to others, stands apart,” said Mark Ferron, a former member of the California Public Utilities Commission. For years, he said, PG&E seemed to play a “cat and mouse game” with regulators of doing what it wanted and waiting to see if it got caught, which he said was unfortunate because the utility commission “is not a particularly adroit cat.” Catherine J.K. Sandoval, another former utility commissioner, and now a Santa Clara University law professor, said PG&E has “a trust issue and a conduct issue,” and it violates rules of conduct so often it amounts to a pattern.
“They are undoubtedly the worst” among the utilities she oversaw, she said.
A jury convicted PG&E in 1997 of more than 700 misdemeanors, many involving power lines in contact with trees. It was fined $2 million.
In 1996 and 2006, PG&E settled lawsuits alleging it contaminated drinking-water sources in and around Hinkley and Kettleman City, Calif., with a carcinogenic form of chromium and deceived residents—agreeing to pay about $628 million in the cases. Following a series of contractor deaths and injuries, PG&E said in a 2015 settlement with regulators it understood it couldn’t delegate its safety responsibilities. It pledged to pre-qualify all contractors and subcontractors who would be doing risky work on its behalf and monitor job sites and said this plan was implemented by the end of 2016. One of 2,425 violations for which the state utility commission penalized PG&E $1.6 billion was impeding its investigation and giving it false information.
PG&E said it was unaware of records inaccuracies before the accident, and said its violations weren’t intentional. The state utility commission found in 2008 that PG&E had engaged in improper back-channel communications with regulators. In lieu of penalties, it let the utility create a program to prevent future violations. The commission later learned that improper communications had resumed a short time afterward. In 2018, it fined the utility $97.5 million for violations of fair-contact rules from 2010 to 2014, including trying to influence judge selection.
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