SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — Pacific Gas and Electric has been charged with federal felony counts involving safety violations linked to a 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The indictment filed Tuesday charges the utility with 12 felonies and accuses the company of violating numerous federal pipeline safety laws.
Federal prosecutors allege that PG&E knowingly relied on erroneous and incomplete information when assessing the safety of the pipeline that eventually ruptured, sparked a fireball and leveled 38 homes in San Bruno.
About a year after the explosion, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board found that these lapses by PG&E led to the blast.
San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane commended the U.S. attorney for their aggressiveness in pursuing this case.
“We’ve tried to do this with the state of California over the last number of years. Their time limit expired after three years and the feds’ time limit expires after five,” he said.
He went on to say California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris wasn’t willing to do anything within the first three years of opportunity.
“My feeling is when eight people lose their lives because the utility is not doing their job, it is in fact criminal,” he said. Ruane additionally blamed the California Public Utilities Commission for not overseeing the situation properly.
David Beltran, a spokesman from Harris’ office, said in a statement: “The California Attorney General’s office is jointly prosecuting with the U.S. Attorney’s office because federal charges were the strongest option to hold PG&E accountable. The charges in this indictment are the result of an aggressive investigation to ensure justice and closure for the victims, families and communities impacted by the tragic explosion in San Bruno.”
Reaction from San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane:
“We hope that the criminal indictment will be one of the steps towards full and final closure for the victims in San Bruno for their families and loved ones,” said San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson.
PG&E Corp. said in a release that it will seek to demonstrate during court proceedings that the charges “have no merit,” while staying focused on its goal of “building the safest and most reliable natural gas system in the country.”
“San Bruno was a tragic accident. We’ve taken accountability and are deeply sorry. We have worked hard to do the right thing for victims, their families and the community, and we will continue to do so,” said PG&E Corp. Chairman Tony Earley, who was brought in to lead the company after the explosion.
The company said it believes its employees did not intentionally violate the law.
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