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PG&E, Owner of Exploded California Pipeline, Also Runs Major Political Operation

Evan Mackinder

Energy giant PG&E, which owns and manages a natural gas pipeline that Thursday night ignited a massive inferno in San Bruno, Calif., is one of the nation’s most notable political players, routinely spending millions of dollars each year on government lobbying and campaign donations, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis finds.

The pipeline explosion has so far torched a swath of suburban houses and killed at least six people, according to the Los Angeles Times. The cause of the explosion is yet to be determined, and PG&E's immediate response to the disaster has been measured; a spokesperson noted that the company would not claim responsibility until they were certain the company is to blame for the explosion. 

But it’s clear that in the wake of the crisis, should any political fallout come its way, PG&E stands well prepared.

Since 2000, PG&E Corp., the parent company of PG&E Co., has spent more than $112 million on federally reportable lobbying efforts, according to the Center’s analysis. Its roster of lobbyists includes an elite force of ex-government officials, and at least one of the lobbyists the company has deployed this year is a former member of Congress, Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Ca.).

And the explosion in San Bruno comes at a time when PG&E Corp. is reaching new heights in lobbying efforts.

During the first six months of the year, PG&E put unprecedented capital into lobbying efforts, reporting to the federal government that it’s so far spent nearly$44 million. Such a figure represents a more than 600 percent increase from the total it spent during all of 2009, and marks an industry-wide record for electric and utilities companies.

Much of the lobbying money it’s spent this year has gone toward efforts to influence a California budget proposal that would make it difficult for counties in the state to start their own electric utility companies. Unlike many companies, PG&E reports its state-level lobbying expenditures to the federal government, in addition to its lobbying of Congress, the White House and federal agencies.

PG&E Co primarily operates out of central and northern California and services more than 15 million customers in the area, according to its website.  The company both backed the measure and has been widely reported to have financed state-wide efforts to pass it. 

Voted on by residents of California in June, the measure ultimately failed.


But PG&E also lobbied on major federal legislation during the first half of the year, according to federal lobbying reports. PG&E put its political muscle behind several of the Democratic-led legislative efforts to address global warming through cap-and-trade measures, including the House and Senate versions of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, and the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act. 

The west coast utilities giant also operates an active political action committee. During the 2008 election cycle, the company contributed more than $384,000 to federal candidates and members of Congress, setting another company record in the process. The company favored Democrats more than two-to-one during the cycle . 

In the House, recipients included 32 members of the California delegation, including Democrat Henry Waxman, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who received $3,000, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, who received $10,000, the most of any other member to collect from PG&E. The company donated $4,700 each to both of California’s U.S. senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

At least one member of Congress, in 2008, also reported personally investing in PG&E – Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). Sensenbrenner had invested between $1,001 and $15,000 that year, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of the congressman’s personal financial disclosure statement. Members of Congress are only required to report their personal holdings in broad ranges.

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