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Friday, June 3, 2011

PG&E Buys Ads in Newspapers to Say Sorry for San Bruno Fire

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2011 at 12:45 AM

click to enlarge You can't buy forgiveness
  • You can't buy forgiveness
PG&E paid for a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle as well as 23 other publications to issue an apology for the San Bruno fire that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes on Sept. 9, 2010.

"We apologize -- there are no excuses when it comes to safety," the ad reads. "As the top leaders at PG&E, we want you to know how deeply sorry we are about last year's tragic explosion on our pipeline in San Bruno."

Save for an oh-so-candid collage of PG&E employees doing safety checks on gas pipelines, the rest of the page was filled with a list of improvements the company says it has embarked on since the tragedy.

Spokesman Brian Swanson says the ads, which will also appear in 21 weekly newspapers, are costing $250,000 of shareholder money. Presumably, PG&E thinks it's money well spent; it marks the first time the company apologized for the San Bruno explosion via a print advertisement.

So why now? Swanson told SF Weekly that this is a big "I'm sorry" from the company's leadership. "We felt that was important," he says. "This isn't the first public apology, but in this case, we want customers to know we're changing as a company, and we are sorry and committed to making our operations stronger and safer."

SF Weekly contacted several victims of the San Bruno fire to find out whether they've forgiven the company, but none returned our phone calls. 

Though the ad did not contain an outright reference to the homes destroyed, injuries, or deaths, Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) says he got the gist of the message. Still, PG&E's "no excuses" stance lacked sincerity, he said. Moreover, he notes that the $250,000 would have been much better spent on hydrotesting pipes.

"I would add that they keep making excuses, as they did yesterday, with their inability to provide the documentation on the wells problem over the last 55 years," Hill says, referring to PG&E's failure to meet its mid-March and June 20 deadlines to turn over documents.

"If they can't meet a goal, they should do everything in their power and not just come up with an excuse and a reason why they can't," he tells SF Weekly. "That in and of itself compromises safety. I'm hoping they mean what they say and time will be the test."

But as the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words.

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Taylor Friedman

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