The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the former U.S. senator chosen to mediate the CPUC talks to determine whether PG&E could get penalized for the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion has withdrawn himself from the appointment.
ex-Sen. George Mitchell's appointment by the California Public Utilities Commission because the appointment was made only with the consent of PG&E, not the other parties involved in the negotiations, which include the city of San Bruno, the city and county of San Francisco, The Utility Reform Network and the CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates.
Mayor Jim Ruane and others this week also issued a public rebuke of Mitchell and his law firm, DLA Piper, saying they had a significant conflict of interest in the negotiations because the law firm represents an insurance carrier for PG&E and received confidential information about the case before being contacted by the CPUC.
Ruane called Mitchell's decision to back out as the mediator in the talks a victory.
“Sen. Mitchell and his law firm DLA Piper did the right thing by telling the California Public Utilities Commission that he wouldn't mediate settlement discussions in the San Bruno explosion and fire without all the parties agreeing. We are very pleased and looking forward getting back to direct negotiations with PG&E,” Ruane said in a statement. “We hope this decision sends an important message to the CPUC and PG&E. They must immediately return to the negotiation table and offer a real settlement to atone for the safety laws they violated and the people and community they have devastated."
CPUC President Michael Peevey said that while he agrees that all parties involved should have an equal say in the negotiations, it is "regrettable" that Mitchell was asked to withdraw as a mediator.
“We remain very grateful to Senator Mitchell for his willingness to step in and try to resolve, by stipulated agreement, these cases triggered by the tragedy in San Bruno,” Peevey said in a statement. “Senator Mitchell is arguably the greatest mediator in the world today, and it is regrettable that some of the parties did not appreciate the opportunity we afforded them to work with a man who is a true peacemaker.
"The San Bruno investigation and regulatory proceedings have gone on for more than two years. Unless a stipulation can be reached, I am worried it might take until mid-next year before these cases can be concluded in the normal litigation manner. We want justice and remedies much sooner than that to get closure and true justice for the people of San Bruno.”
The CPUC hearings that were supposed to determine whether PG&E would get penalized for record-keeping mistakes and other deficiencies that led up to the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion are still on hold.
The negotiations are expected to start back up again on Nov. 1.