Calif. Law Keeps Public from Knowing About Dangerous Pipelines

November 30, 2011

Some California citizens may want to know whether there are natural gas pipelines near their homes or offices that could blow up, destroy buildings, and kill people like the one in San Bruno, Calif., did in September 2010. They might want to know whether the utility company had done required maintenance or how the pipeline fared on its last inspection. They might want to know whether the Public Utilities Commission was doing its job or neglecting it.

But California law and attendant regulations don't allow the public to know such things. Almost all records of the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates pipelines, are secret — and the PUC typically asks permission from the utility companies before releasing any information.

That secrecy was revealed in a San Francisco Chronicle investigative piece November 27. In most other states, such information is freely available to the public.