Don Bauder 7:30 a.m., Dec. 13
SDG&E Executive Conflict of Interest Prompts Payment Return by Roberts Campaign
Keegan Kyle at voiceofsandiego.org reported yesterday (October 25) that an executive of San Diego Gas and Electric Company received his campaign donation back from Ron Roberts, the county supervisor for downtown San Diego who is running for re-election in one week.
Michael Niggli, SDG&E's president and chief operating officer, requested the donation back from the Roberts re-election campaign. In an email to Kyle, SDG&E spokesperson Jennifer Ramp offered that the return of the $125 donation by Niggli was requested to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Roberts, in addition to his post on the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors, is also a director of the County Air Pollution Control District.
Previously, APCD inspectors testified in the 2007 federal environmental crimes trial United States of America v. SDG&E which resulted in several felony guilty verdicts against SDG&E. The verdicts were later overturned when the District Court ruled that asbestos bulk sample tests, many of which were performed on samples taken by APCD inspectors, were inadmissible for technical reasons of not being “representative” samples of asbestos-laden pipe coating at the Encanto Gas Holder site demolition in Lemon Grove. Despite the defendant claim that the samples were not representative, no physical evidence was introduced by SDG&E to show that the scattered friable asbestos debris was any different than the original 50-year-old pipe coating that tested as high as “50-60%” asbestos content.
In the initial trial, a senior federal Environmental Protection Agency inspector and coordinator of western regional National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants enforcement testified that the Encanto Gas Holder demolition was the worst case of friable asbestos production by people who should have known better in a residential area that he had seen in his career as an EPA inspector and NESHAP enforcement coordinator.
More recently, both the City of San Diego and County of San Diego were named as opposition parties in the Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA) A0908020 application now pending before California's Public Utilities Commission. The two local governments are engaged in lawsuits against SDG&E to recover expenses relating to the 2007 San Diego wildfire complex, and CPUC granted party status in the WEBA matter on that basis. In 2009, CPUC's Consumer Protection and Safety Division heard testimony of SDG&E involvement in three of those fires, where SDG&E employees testified about untrimmed tree limbs, swinging power lines, and exploding overhead equipment owned and operated by SDG&E.
If approved by CPUC, WEBA will allow SDG&E and other California investor owned power utilities to bill customers for uninsured wildfire liabilities. According to statements filed by former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre in the pending WEBA matter, SDG&E shareholders including Sempra Energy should be liable for covering the uninsured wildfire legal costs and other wildfire-related expenses, not utility ratepayers.
Niggli's claimed conflict of interest comes only a month after Pacific Gas and Electric Company, another WEBA applicant, was involved in the near-destruction of the suburban neighborhood of San Bruno from an exploding high-pressure gas line. PG&E has offered $100 million in wildfire recovery funding for surviving San Bruno residents and may discontinue usage of its underground pipeline that snakes its way through the massively damaged neighborhood.