"Californians concerned about dangerous pipelines running underneath their neighborhoods are barred from obtaining government records about them by a 60-year-old state law backed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and other utilities, a Chronicle investigation shows."
"The vast majority of documents at the California Public Utilities Commission are off-limits to the public under the state law, and a related agency regulation, including investigation reports on natural-gas pipeline accidents and safety audits of companies like PG&E.
'Everything is secret unless it is declared otherwise,' said Frank Lindh, general counsel for the five-member utilities commission since 2008 and before that a lawyer for PG&E.
In most other states, such documents are routinely available. But California's law - one of the strictest in the nation - requires a vote of the Public Utilities Commission for an outsider to see unreleased paperwork. Records show that the panel consults with utilities first.
The commission's confidentiality powers have frustrated average citizens seeking information about pipelines in their community and even hampered accident-related investigations.
'There's no transparency whatsoever,' said Anthony Moscarelli, who was denied access to documents about two aging gas pipelines that run within feet of his home in Suisun City. 'They are pretty much immune.'"
Eric Nalder and Jaxon Van Derbeken report for the San Francisco Chronicle November 27, 2011.