The CPUC has appointed a former U.S. senator to serve as a mediator to help resolve the ongoing talks the penalty case against PG&E for the 2010 San Bruno fire.
The California Public Utilities Commission said today that former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell has been brought in to help PG&E, the CPUC’s safety enforcement staff, and other agencies—including the city of San Bruno—reach an agreement about how much PG&E should be fined for the many deficiences that were found in the utility's operations leading up to the pipeline explosion.
“We are very grateful to Senator Mitchell for agreeing to devote his skills as mediator to this difficult and painful series of cases,” CPUC President Michael Peevey said in a statement. “We are confident Senator Mitchell can help achieve a solution that will resolve these cases sooner rather than later, bring justice to the good people of San Bruno, and move California forward to our goal of a much safer natural gas system.”
The CPUC recently suspended its hearings that are supposed to determine whether PG&E should be fined for the explosion. Critics say the move was made so that PG&E could conduct negotiations behind closed doors. But Peevey said the only thing that has been paused at the moment is PG&E testimony against the charges made by the CPUC's Consumer Protection and Safety Division.
Mitchell is known for his role as the U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland, where he brokered the landmark Good Friday Peace Treaty in April 1998, and more recently as President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East.
PG&E said it agreed with the decision to bring in Mitchell for the negotiations.
“We support the commission’s decision," Tom Bottorff, senior vice president of regulatory affairs, said in a statement. "Senator Mitchell has a distinguished career, including experience presiding over many complex negotiations. We are committed to working with Senator Mitchell and the commission to achieve a fair and comprehensive settlement of these issues.”
The CPUC didn't say how much longer the negotiations will take but has promised that any final decision must be publicly filed with the CPUC and considered by the CPUC’s five commissioners in public after the public has had an opportunity for review and comment.