LAWRENCE (CBS) – The president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts says he won’t resign, despite intense criticism for the way his company has handled the Merrimack Valley gas explosions and its aftermath.
Columbia Gas president Steve Bryant and Joe Hamrock, the president of its parent company NiSource, were grilled at a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on the disaster Monday at a middle school in Lawrence.
A young man was killed and dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed in the September 13 explosions and fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. Many residents still have no gas service. When asked by Sen. Elizabeth Warren if all customers will be back online by the December 16 deadline, Bryant replied, “Yes, Senator.”
The public hearing began with an emotional statement from Lucianny Rondon, the sister of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon who died in one of the explosions.
“This senseless tragedy is the beginning of many things that my family and I will never do with Leonel again,” she told the panel.
When questioning began, Warren asked Hamrock if his salary has been reduced since the explosions. He said he’s recommended his bonus be withheld. Hamrock earned $5 million last year.
Warren said Hamrock and Bryant hadn’t shown they’ve taken “personal responsibility” for the disaster, which Hamrock estimated to have cost $800 million so far.
“The people in this room have been injured. You have not. You continue to keep your jobs, to collect your big paychecks and to go on about your business. Personal responsibility means you step up in this, not simply that you back away and say how you’ll figure how other people can deal with this problem,” Warren said, which was followed by applause from the audience.
Rep. Seth Moulton later asked Bryant point blank if he plans to resign. “At this point, Congressman, I do not,” Bryant replied.
“Based on your response that evening, when it took five hours to notify your customers that there was a problem, it’s hard for me to imagine that you’re the best person to take responsibility of this company and I suggest you resign,” Moulton said.
Watch: Moulton Suggests Bryant Should Resign
Warren said Columbia Gas need to meet the following terms: “The first is they would compensate every single resident, every single small business owner, who was injured by this explosion. And that second is that everyone will be back in their homes by December 16.”
Hamrock told Rep. Niki Tsongas though, he cannot guarantee that the cost of the tragedy will not be passed on to ratepayers down the line.
In the afternoon, Bryant and Joe Hamrock were not in the room as leaders from Andover and Lawrence testified. Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera told the crowd, “Columbia Gas should cease to exist. No second chances.”
Federal and state officials that oversee who oversee the gas industry did not escape criticism either. There were only two Massachusetts inspectors overseeing 21,000 miles of pipeline at the time of the explosions. Sen. Markey is now pushing for federal pipeline safety regulations.