Over the Hill

California's PUC could use a leader like Paso's former police chief

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

The California Public Utilities Commission has gotten cozy with PG&E. The PUC badly needs a leader like former Paso Robles Police Chief John Nelson. He led our police force from 1985 to 1996, strictly enforcing the law without fear or favor.

Inappropriate e-mails have flowed between the PUC and PG&E. The e-mails concerned the PG&E gas pipeline that exploded in 2010 in San Bruno wrecking many homes and killing 8 people.

One e-mail was from PUC President Michael Peevey. He told a PG&E executive how to better manage the corporation’s news releases.

In another e-mail, a PG&E executive complained to the PUC’s executive director, Paul Clanon, that PUC staffers were demanding too much information. She asked Clanon to intervene in the matter.

That same PG&E executive also received an e-mail from Carol Brown, chief of staff for PUC President Peevey. Brown told the executive she’d be “happy to chat” with her about explosion matters and to steer PG&E through PUC procedures. The PG&E executive answered her, “Love you. Thanks.”

The PUC sounds like PG&E’s buddy, not its regulator. It’s time to replace PUC President Peevey and other officials. I wonder if John Nelson would be available for Peevey’s job.

In 1985 after Nelson experienced his first Paso Robles Pioneer Day celebration, he thoroughly criticized it at a City Council meeting. He said there was too much drinking. There were 400 percent more arrests than on a normal Saturday and 600 percent more alcohol arrests. He obviously understood his role as a regulator.

Two years later, drinking on sidewalks or in other public places had been banned. One-day licenses, however, were available to organizations for beer and wine in specified parks. Nelson reported that drinking on Pioneer Day was minimal.

I also wonder these days what Nelson would do about the big oil companies. You probably heard they’re trying to keep us from knowing what railroad lines they use for shipping dangerous crude oil. I was pleased that California decided to reveal that information.

I remember reporting on a train wreck in Atascadero on July 12, 1982, for the Telegram-Tribune (now The Tribune). Seven of the train’s cars ran off the track in a jumble. Three were tank cars, two of which carried liquefied petroleum gas. The third carried sulfuric acid.

My photo showed at least two tank cars on their sides, but none leaked. Railroad workers said they were empty. But today with hydraulic fracturing we may expect many more, full tank cars. We must insist they’re well regulated.