SAN MATEO, Calif. -- The California Public Utilities Commission has yet to turn over documents requested months ago by prosecutors looking into the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Tuesday.
"It has just moved at a glacier pace," Wagstaffe said. "Things have been moving slowly, and we wish they would move more quickly."
Wagstaffe's office, the California attorney general and the U.S. Attorney's Office are reviewing whether any civil or criminal misconduct contributed to the Sept. 9 blast that leveled 38 homes. Wagstaffe said it's too early to say if there will be any charges in connection with the explosion of the line operated by Pacific Gas & Electric.
The CPUC turned over hundreds of pages of documents to prosecutors, but it asserted it was legally prevented from giving others to investigators, Wagstaffe said. He said he couldn't talk about which documents those are, though he added they are all related to the disaster.
"I'm not using the word 'stonewalling,"' he said. "It's moving at a pace slower than we would like."
CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the commission is cooperating with investigators.
"We are supplying all requested records, except those that the (National Transportation Safety Board) has directed that the district attorney and attorney general obtain from the NTSB directly," Prosper said in an e-mail. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the blast but has yet to make any determinations.
The DA's Office and the Attorney General's Office recently signed a nondisclosure agreement that was necessary for the CPUC to be able to turn over the requested documents, Prosper said. Wagstaffe acknowledged there has been a "meeting of the minds" on the issue, but said he is unhappy it took months to achieve.
"It's strange and really unfair to say that," said CPUC general counsel Frank Lindh. "The holdup was on their end."
Lindh said it took San Mateo County two months to make a decision on whether to sign the agreement. He added that it's a relatively simple document that allows prosecutors to see confidential documents but forbids them from making the pages public.
Lindh added that most of the NTSB documents will be made public at the time of the March hearing in Washington, D.C., on the pipeline rupture.
Assemblyman Jerry Hill, a Democrat, whose district includes San Bruno, criticized the commission for not moving faster. He said it should have jumped to help any agency working on the tragedy.
"They should go out of their way to accommodate investigators -- not be a stumbling block," Hill said. "It's bureaucracy run amok."
Hill lambasted the commission at its meeting last week and said the regulator "failed" the people of San Bruno.
Wagstaffe said PG&E and its attorneys have been responsive so far to requests from prosecutors, but added that the focus for now is on the CPUC. It's not clear if or when the prosecutors' review could turn into a civil or criminal probe.
"If, when going through the documents, we find something that shows wrongdoing, it would move from review to investigation," Wagstaffe said.
(c) 2010, San Mateo County Times, Calif.
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