THE BLOG
08/11/2014 03:37 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2014

Wrong TURN on Public Safety

The consumer group's irresponsible attacks put Californians at risk.

"Untimely and misguided" - in the spring of 2007, that's what Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty called a thoughtful proposal to invest in Minnesota's roads and bridges. He vetoed it upon receipt. Two months later, the Mississippi River Bridge collapsed near downtown Minneapolis, killing thirteen people and leaving a school bus full of children teetering on its guard rails.

If you live in California, you could be forgiven for assuming Pawlenty's attitude is endemic to just one side of the political aisle. Railing against investment in infrastructure is proto-typically right wing, and not something you'd expect from a pro-consumer group in the Bay Area. But that was the case The Utility Reform Network (TURN) made in a recent statement vilifying PG&E. The company's sin: asking for a marginal rate increase that would be used to test and strengthen miles of gas pipeline and make other fixes.

TURN's statement accused the utility of using the San Bruno disaster as an excuse to pad upper management's pockets. As the head of a union that represents frontline workers at PG&E, I don't always see eye to eye with company management - and few issues are more galling to me than ballooning executive compensation. But this has nothing to do with that disparity.

The proposed rate increase will help the company confront years of deferred maintenance. Workers will finally be able to test and replace miles of pipeline below our streets, improving safety for communities across the state. Is now really the time to tie their hands and accuse them of corporate thievery?

Our union represents the men and women who put on hard hats and gloves and dig through the earth to perform maintenance on the gas lines. I realize that this kind of work may be hard to fathom for the people sending emails from the safety of TURN's Market Street offices, but I hope we can agree that just like everyone else, they deserve to be safe and return to their families at the end of the day. TURN's decision to stand in the way of the upgrades compromises our members' safety, and that's irresponsible.

Most reasonable people acknowledge that public services aren't free. We pool our resources to invest in our streets, police, fire protection and more. But some have veered so far to the left that they can't extend this reasoning to anything with a corporate structure, even a public utility. That's a shame, and it puts the safety of millions of Californians at risk.

If TURN were serious about keeping Californians safe, they would support this reasonable investment in our gas and electric infrastructure. The safety of our workers and your families is at stake.