California regulators have begun looking into allegations that Pacific Gas & Electric ignored warnings from the company’s former manager of investigations about  “potentially explosive gas leaks.”

The preliminary state probe is yet another examination of the company’s safety practices in the years before the explosion last September of a PG&E gas pipeline that killed eight people, and destroyed dozens of homes, in San Bruno, Calif.

The new probe by the California Public Utilities Commission, the San Jose Mercury News reports, stems from charges in a 2008 lawsuit recently brought to light by the newspaper. In the suit, which was settled confidentially, James Redeker said he was laid off by the utility in 2006 after six years as the investigations manager in retaliation for complaining about the potential leaks, falsified records and other alleged problems.

His allegations are in line with previously reported assertions by several other current or former PG&E employees. They said that the utility repeatedly ignored safety concerns raised by workers and sometimes punished them for speaking up.

An official with the utilities commission, Michelle Cooke, said her agency was beginning a preliminary investigation based on the Redeker suit. “It does certainly call into question PG&E’s corporate culture. The allegations imply a pattern of cover-up and disregard for safety,” she said.

Along with claiming that he was fired in retaliation for raising safety concerns, Redeker made other allegations. He charged that the utility falsified internal reports about gas leaks, conspired to bill ratepayers nearly $2 million after it mistakenly overpaid that amount to another company and paid an “exorbitant” $60,000 for a former chief executive, Peter Darbee, to take a rountrip flight to Florida on a private jet.

A company spokesman declined to comment on the suit’s specific claims, but said PG&E thoroughly investigates safety issues raised by employees and notifies regulators if “there is any truth to those concerns.”

PG&E has been the target of an array of investigations related to the September explosion. Along with a separate examination by the utilities commission, the investigations include a review by the National Transportation Safety Board and a criminal inquiry led by the U.S. Department of Justice.


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