SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell has stepped down from overseeing private settlement talks over a deadly Northern California pipeline explosion after state regulators set up a mediation process criticized by several parties as an unfair, backroom deal.
The California Public Utilities Commission appointed the former Senate Majority Leader earlier this month to mediate a settlement aimed at determining how much Pacific Gas & Electric Co. should be fined for the blast.
But the cities of San Bruno and San Francisco as well as the commission's own consumer advocacy branch said Mitchell should not preside over talks because the commission had given PG&E advance notice of his hiring.
The organizations did not question the talents of Mitchell — who brokered the 1998 Northern Ireland treaty — but were concerned that he and his law firm, DLA Piper, previously had represented public utilities.
"What seemed to prompt the concern was simply the way we decided to appoint him, without prior consultation with the parties," said Commissioner Mike Florio, who chairs one of the proceedings intended to determine the level of fines for PG&E.
Over the past two years, the company has faced grueling public hearings over potential malfeasance leading up to the 2010 blast, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in San Bruno, a bedroom community just south of San Francisco.