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The California Public Utilities Commission today ordered the establishment of an independent review panel to investigate the pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno earlier this month.

The commission is creating the panel to investigate the Sept. 9 disaster, which killed seven people and injured more than 50 others, as well as the safety of PG&E pipelines throughout its jurisdiction.

The explosion occurred when a 30-inch PG&E gas transmission line ruptured in San Bruno’s Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood, causing a fire that destroyed 37 homes and damaged many more.

The order to establish the panel of experts was approved unanimously by the five commissioners.

CPUC President Michael Peevey said he expects the full cooperation of PG&E, which was ordered to fund the panel, make all employees available for interviews, and preserve all records related to the safety of the gas line that ruptured.

Peevey will have 60 days from today to choose the members of the panel, who will have to be approved by the full commission.

State Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, spoke at the start of today’s commission meeting to encourage the CPUC to look closely at what led to the disaster.

“People’s lives are at risk,” Hill said. “This is a critical issue for me and my constituents. As regulators, it’s crucial we ensure the safety” of the pipelines.

“We rely so heavily on inspection reports and other information from utilities, so we want to make sure there’s sufficient PUC inspection” as well, he said.

Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, said he believes “it’s very important for the CPUC to really look very critically at PG&E’s business practices in addition to what it is that happened around the San Bruno explosion itself.”

Commissioner Timothy Simon said, “My expectation is that this independent group will look at everything that happened and see if there’s any systemic problems” with PG&E’s practices, and that the answers the panel finds “will determine our courses of action.”

A PG&E spokesperson was not immediately available for comment on today’s order by the commission.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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