The California Public Utilities Commission is a disaster. The degree of incompetence is so high, it's hard to find anything the PUC does well under President Michael Peevey's leadership.
Gov. Jerry Brown has refused to remove Peevey, but he's got to find a new leader for this critically important regulatory body when Peevey's term expires at the end of the year.
If Brown renominates Peevey, the state Senate should refuse to confirm him.
The latest embarrassment is a state audit released Tuesday finding that the PUC used "flawed investigative approaches" and slap-on-the-wrist fines when it probed safety complaints against limousine operators and other passenger companies in the wake of the limo fire on the San Mateo Bridge. That horrific blaze killed five women. How can an agency supposedly working in the public interest not take the danger seriously?
"The commission has not resolved complaints in a timely fashion, it has taken far too long to begin and resolve investigations, and it has assessed financial penalties for substantial violations well below what state law allows," said state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-Hayward.
The blistering report mirrors the PUC's lax regulation of PG&E under Peevey's control.
Just last week, the PUC reportedly fired one of the lead attorneys investigating faulty records kept for PG&E's natural gas system. News accounts said Robert Cagen was canned because he wouldn't succumb to pressure to end the probe. He insisted on trying to force PG&E to produce strength-test records for 435 miles of gas transmission lines, including Line 132 beneath San Bruno, which ruptured in 2010 and killed eight people, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes.
State Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo, whose district includes San Bruno, charged that the PUC wanted to stop investigation of the records because it was pressured by PG&E to back off, which PG&E officials dispute.
A responsible utility, of course, wouldn't leave questions about whether it had turned over all relevant records. But PG&E has a track record of being more interested in limiting fines than in coming clean with its customers.
It's Peevey's job to hold PG&E's feet to the fire. He's more likely to offer a pedicure. The former president of Southern California Edison has spent the past eight years cozying up to the utility. Under his watch, the commission ignored dozens of serious gas pipeline incidents between 2004 and 2009 that showed the lax safety culture that ultimately led to the San Bruno conflagration.
The governor should have demanded Peevey's resignation years ago. If he can't bring himself to remove Peevey, he should at least be looking for a successor who can set things right, place consumer safety first and restore confidence in the hapless agency whose incompetence precedes Brown's tenure but, four years in, appears to just keep getting worse.