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Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and its regulator had a culture of checking off boxes, rather than deeply considering the safety of their system, according a report released late last week by an independent panel.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) created the panel last year to assess the factors that contributed to the explosion of a PG&E gas pipeline in San Bruno last September, which took the lives of eight people and destroyed dozens of homes.

The panel found:
• PG&E and CPUC had a culture more attuned to simply complying with federal code than focusing on the safety of their system.
• A failure at PG&E and CPUC to adequately learn from mistakes or problems discovered internally and elsewhere in the industry.
• Major problems with the quality and availability of records about pipeline safety.
• At PG&E, a focus on the occupational safety of employees, but no similar focus on the pipeline system’s safety.
• A lack of technical understanding among the management at PG&E.
• People low on the totem pole at CPUC had indeed discovered some problems at PG&E, but people at the top of the agency never took those concerns seriously.
• PG&E’s “Pipeline 2020”, it’s response to the explosion, is unimpressive and prescriptive.
• CPUC remains understaffed and undertrained.

Commissioners heard the testimony of the panelists and vowed to take their recommendations seriously. Commission president Michael Peevey called the report “damning of PG&E across the board,” and agreed there has been a history of a “culture of complacency” at CPUC.

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Shortly after the report hit the street, PG&E issued a statement calling the report “thoughtful” and saying they are moving quickly to adopt its recommendations. Their statement also took full responsibility for the explosion.

“We are deeply sorry for the tragic accident in San Bruno. And we are committed to earning our customers’ trust and confidence by continuing to do whatever is necessary to bring our performance up to industry-leading standards and see that an accident like the one in San Bruno never happens again,” officials said in a statement.

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