Former Utility Supervisor: Peoples Gas Hid Slow Response Times To Gas Leaks
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(CBS) – A whistleblower breaks his silence.
For the first time, Joseph Pusateri tells his story and explains why Peoples Gas customers across Illinois should be furious because of what he says he was told to do by his boss.
CBS 2′s Suzanne Le Mignot reports.
“Peoples Gas is trading profit for safety,” says Joseph Pusateri.
He worked as a citywide dispatch supervisor for seven of his last 20 years at Peoples Gas in 2006. Pusateri says his boss ordered him to continually alter response times to gas leaks at the utitlity’s dispatch center, after a day of high call volume.
He said he had between 20 and 25 gas leaks within an hour but only five crews to respond to them. His supervisor, he says, “just told me at that time, take care of it. Fix ‘em up because we can’t have this.”
That meant, Pusateri says: “Change the times. Make them go under. The computer was capable to bringing them back to under an hour. If you bring them back to under an hour, nobody knows.”
By law, the Illinois Commerce Commission must receive a written report explaining why gas leak response times are longer than one hour. Those reports are one of the factors involved in creating customer rate increases.
Pusateri says in 2008, there was a $71 million rate increase, done with the goal of improving safety.
He says he was fired when higher-ups learned he was changing response times.
Pusateri filed a lawsuit against Peoples Gas under the Whistleblower Act. His case is before the Illinois Supreme Court.
“Everyone in Illinois who is a customer of Peoples Gas should be outraged that their rate increases and monthly payments to Peoples Gas did not go to safety concerns as represented,” attorney Tony Peraica says.
Peoples Gas declined to comment on the allegations but said safety is a major concern.
“We adhere to robust reporting standards, as the reliability and safety of the natural gas distribution system, and the safety of our customers and employees are our highest priorities,” the utility said.
An ICC spokesperson says because there’s pending litigation, they are unable to make a comment. The watchdog group Citizens Utility Board says if the allegations are true, this is a huge violation of trust between Peoples Gas and its customers.