San Francisco intends to sue regulators over lax pipeline regulation 

San Francisco is poised to sue the government agencies tasked with gas pipeline safety for failing to enforce standards that might have prevented last year’s deadly PG&E blast in San Bruno.

In a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Gov. Jerry Brown sent Thursday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced his intent to file suit under the Pipeline Safety Act.

“The CPUC and PHMSA have a poor track record in actual enforcement, instead adopting a minimalist, ‘check the boxes’ approach to their regulatory obligations under the act,” the letter said.

Part of that quote comes from a scathing report from an independent panel assembled last fall by the CPUC. The panel’s job was to assess the factors that contributed to the explosion of a PG&E pipeline in San Bruno on Sept. 9, which killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes.

But the panel also found major fault with PG&E’s closest regulator, the CPUC. Low-ranking CPUC employees, for example, had discovered problems at PG&E, but their concerns were never seriously considered by the people at the top of the agency.

Were San Francisco to file a lawsuit, it would ask the court to require regulators to start complying with a 1968 federal law that requires state and federal agencies to adhere reasonably with certain safety standards.

“As evidenced by the San Bruno explosion, natural gas pipelines that are not adequately maintained pursuant to an effective integrity management program pose a serious threat to those who live, work and gather near them,” Herrera wrote. “That includes thousands of people who live and work in areas adjacent to the gas transmission pipelines running through San Francisco.”

The agencies have 60 days to reply to the letter before a lawsuit can be filed.

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