PUC report blasts agency’s ‘anti-safety attitude’

by Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee

State lawmakers are poised to blast the California Public Utilities Commission after a scathing report that questions the agency’s commitment to safety.

The report, completed for the PUC by the Folsom-based Business Advantage Consulting, found that the commission’s staff lacks the leadership and tools needed to make safety a priority.

Staff members interviewed by the consultants detailed multiple issues stemming from what they called an "anti-safety" attitude held by the executive director, including "resistance to challenging utilities" and "resistance to leveling fines."

An Assembly budget subcommittee is set to review the report as part of an update on the commission’s "Safety Culture Change" project, an initiative launched in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

A committee staff analysis says the report "strongly suggests that safety concerns continue to be a secondary priority at the commission and this message is transmitted from leadership to staff and the utilities it regulates."

The PUC defended its record in a statement saying it "has made safety an underlying principle in all its actions."

Tensions between the PUC and state lawmakers have been especially high in recent weeks.

Members of the same committee blasted PUC officials over accounting and budget forecasting practices at a March hearing.