2015 Regulators Forum
Paul J. Roberti serves as a commissioner at the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission and serves as chairman of NARUC’s subcommittee on pipeline safety. Prior to his appointment to the PUC, Roberti served for 17 years in the state’s Office of Attorney General, most recently as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the Regulatory Unit. In that capacity, he represented the State during the landmark restructuring and deregulation of the electric, gas and telecommunications industries.
It was March 12, 2014. I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico when I heard the news. Two buildings in East Harlem, New York had collapsed after what was believed to be a natural gas explosion. It would turn out to be another cataclysmic incident and the death toll would equal the San Bruno incident in California, another pipeline explosion from four years earlier that sent shock waves through the industry and regulatory community. In East Harlem, early media reports indicated that the gas likely came from Con Edison's cast iron distribution system dating back to 1887.
Something about that date struck me. Then I remembered that I had visited an open air market in Santa Fe four days earlier and purchased a silver dollar dated in the late 19th century. When I returned to my hotel room, I fetched my silver dollar and discovered that it too was dated 1887. But unlike my coin, which increases in value over time, the cast iron pipeline system represented a growing liability both to public safety and the financial interests of a public utility.