Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s simply no fire. Such is the case with the mysterious Styrofoam picnic cooler planted ominously in front of the Federal Bankruptcy Court building — owned ironically and iconically by News-Press owner Wendy McCaw — this past Tuesday. Law enforcement authorities, suspecting it might possibly be a bomb, dispatched an interdenominational team to determine just what made the cooler tick, only to find out they couldn’t. Normal traffic flows were staunched for blocks in either direction — and for hours — and the bomb squad ultimately defused the matter by blowing up the cooler with a high pressure water cannon.
Given that Tuesday happened to be the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing (see Timothy McVeigh) and the Waco Texas inferno (see David Koresh), and the day before Adolf Hitler’s birthday (see Adolf Hitler) — not to mention a holy day of obligation for pot heads everywhere (see 420, as in 4/20) — many speculated there might be a cosmic connection involved, or perhaps a not-so-subtle reminder by unseen forces of how vulnerable we all are. Turns out that the cooler was dropped off in front of the Bankruptcy Court building by a homeless couple who had grown weary of carrying it and its contents — just ice — and even wearier of arguing about it. At least that’s what they told Independent photographer Paul Wellman this Thursday while he was covering the annual ceremonial washing of homeless people’s feet that now takes place every year at the Veterans Memorial Building just before Easter Sunday.
On a much more ominous note, Peter Darbee has just resigned under pressure as CEO of PG&E — parent company of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant right up the coast — and was replaced, at least for the time being, by longtime board member Lee Cox. I know next to nothing about Mr. Cox other than the fact that his first name is Lee. Given the well-documented sociopathic tendencies (see “Theory of Lee”) for people afflicted with this name — first, last, or middle — we should all begin stockpiling our potassium iodide tablets to ward off thyroid cancer should Diablo Canyon suffer a collusion of catastrophes similar to the ones that afflicted the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan.
As the corporate personification of “The Man,” Darbee was decidedly eco-friendly, and jumped on board the global warming bandwagon long before it was fashionable among bottom line feeders. Not only did PG&E talk the talk under Darbee, but their walk packed some genuine eco-groovy swagger. In the “no good deed goes unpunished” school of instant karma, Darbee and PG&E have been zapped hard by their Smart Meter program. In some instances the meters — designed to calculate down to the calorie how much energy consumers are wasting — have malfunctioned extravagantly, leaving customers with energy bills designed to induce cardiac arrest in a triathlete.
But that was hardly Darbee’s only problem. A technical malfunction caused a PG&E pipeline running under San Bruno to explode in September 2010, leveling 35 homes and killing eight people. It hasn’t helped any that PG&E officials have failed to put their hands on key safety documents since then. Company assurances that the documents wouldn’t have mattered much anyway have not played well with San Bruno residents, who’ve packed recent meetings of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Nor were they impressed with the $3 million fine imposed by the CPUC. They noted that PG&E spent $45 million to bankroll a statewide ballot initiative that would have made it all but illegal for municipal governments to get into the energy biz — rubbing out any hint of prospective competition. In that context, they noted, a $3 million fine did not rise to the level of a slap on the wrist.
With all that going on, Darbee and PG&E already had their hands full even without the 1-2-3 punch of the quake, tsunami, and radiation nightmare of Fukushima. In the aftermath of that catastrophe, both of California’s U.S. senators have begun to squint more skeptically at PG&E’s assurances that Diablo Canyon is built to withstand any quake that man, God, or nature can throw its way. First, there is the history of the site itself, which was approved shortly before the offshore Hosgri Fault was discovered off the coast in the 1970s. Even so, plant construction was allowed to proceed. When it was discovered that construction supervisors had been reading blueprints backward, the construction had to stop, be undone, and then start all over again. This added $4 billion to the cost of construction.
Given Diablo Canyon’s relatively exemplary operating record since then, all this would be ancient history were it not for the 2008 discovery of yet another earthquake fault off the coast — this one located just 300 yards away from the plant. What we don’t know about this fault — dubbed the Shoreline Fault — would fill countless studies that have yet to be conducted. Until they are, people like Congressmember Lois Capps and State Senator Sam Blakeslee are demanding that Diablo Canyon’s relicensing application be suspended. Maybe Lee Cox can prove that nomenclature is not destiny; maybe he’ll step up to the plate, as they say, voluntarily withdraw PG&E’s relicensing application, and begin in earnest the process of studying the Shoreline Fault to death.