If you want to see something sickening skip right past the latest video games or the most brutal Game of Thrones episode, shut off the DVR, and settle in for the current Pacific Gas and Elelectric Company (PG&E) television sixty second “mea culpa” about the San Bruno gas explosion. A saccharin female voice recounts the fatal disaster over images of broken pieces of pipeline, but unless that voice belongs to PG&E's CEO or head of its board of directors, which is extremely unlikely, the ad is as phoney as the tone in which it is told. The advertisement is part of a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson in January. PG&E must spend $3,000,000 running these pathetic ads over a three month period as part of Judge Henderson's decree. Previously, state government regulators had fined the gas and electric giant $1.6 billion as a result of the 2010 explosion that killed eight people. One of them, Jacqueline Grieg, was an employee of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). If you want irony, Grieg's position at the CPUC was in a relatively tiny unit devoted to advocating for consumer rights in relation to natural gas regulations.
In total PG&E will run approximately 12,500 sixty second TV ads to fulfill that aspect of Judge Henderson's ruling. PG&E's public relations response to the judgment included statements that said the company was committed to becoming the “safest and most reliable energy provider in America.”
Which leads us to what you can find out by reading the insert within your gas and/or electric bill. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company included a tidbit in their March billing notices about Proposition 65. That 1986 ballot initiative was intended to protect the state's drinking water sources from being contaminated with chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, and requires businesses to inform Californians about exposures to such chemicals. The last phrase explains why thirty-one years later PG&E has to place a paper insert in its bills to tell you that the company still uses chemicals in its operations “that are known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
If you have already discarded your monthly PG&E statement this is what it says, in part, “PG&E uses lead-based paint on some of our towers or other facilities and wooden utility poles are treated with wood preservatives.” Along with the inherent dangers of natural gas pipeline in need of repair and replacement, those lead-based paints are also sources of birth defects and cancer causers.
The less than ethical tactics of businesses have spilled over into the semi-literary world. Last year I let a decades long subscription to The New Yorker run its course. However, the magazine, owned by the Conde Nast company, has continued to send pleas to re-subscribe. The last two have come with the words “Demand For Payment” plastered in bold capital letters across the one page request/threat. Keep in mind that I, the subscriber, haven't received any product (the magazine) since the old subscription ran out about six months ago. The most recent “Demand For Payment,” which I started to wad and throw in the trash bin at the post office, but held onto, states, “Your bill is seriously past due. Even though we have given you every opportunity to forward payment, we still haven't heard from you. The quickest way to fix this situation is to pay online...”
This threatening method must work to scare up enough re-subsciptions to counter balance the ill-will such tactics engender, but it's not working at the Macdonald household. If The New Yorker's mean spirited methods seem too far afield, consider the operation of two of our local banking institutions. Recently Mendo Lake Credit Union sent me a “past due” notice for a deal that was seemingly finalized a month earlier. Before anyone thinks of switching to the Savings Bank of Mendocino County, remember that institution has recently imposed a $5 monthly service charge on customers who want to receive paper statements for their accounts. At current interest rates a customer would need to maintain a checking balance of more than $100,000 just to offset the $5.00 service charge.