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PG&E Goes to Court on Latest Criminal Indictment

Pacific Gas and Electric Co.. (PG&E) lawyers went to federal court Monday, responding to a superseding indictment charging the San Francisco-based combination utility with obstructing a safety investigation and violating the 1968 Pipeline Safety Act (PSA) related to the rupture in 2010 of a natural gas transmission pipeline that killed eight people in San Bruno, CA (see Daily GPI, July 31).

Monday was the scheduled arraignment before U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson for the indictment from a federal grand jury for the Northern District of California. PG&E is charged with one count of obstructing a federal agency proceeding and 27 separate counts of violations of the PSA. PG&E faces collective fines of up to $14 million, with $500,000 being the maximum fine for each of the 28 counts.

In April, PG&E pleaded not guilty to 12 federal criminal charges stemming from its actions leading up to the explosion (see Daily GPI, April 21).

"Based on all of the evidence we have seen to date and our review of the new indictment, we still do not believe that PG&E employees intentionally violated the federal PSA, and that, even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe and reliable energy," a PG&E spokesperson said on the eve of the arraignment.

Regarding the indictment for allegedly obstructing the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of the San Bruno incident, PG&E has responded to literally "hundreds of questions and requests for information and documents from  the NTSB on an expedited  basis," the spokesperson said.

One document cited in the obstruction charge included the wrong cover sheet on an engineering document. The utility contends it subsequently filed a corrective letter to straighten out the record.

"The NTSB published the letter on its accident investigation docket on Sept. 30, 2011, and it has been publicly available since then," the PG&E spokesperson said. "PG&E believes the letter is true and accurate and stands by it."

PG&E reiterated to the court that the legal process should ensure all of the facts are fully reviewed, and they eventually will vindicate the utility. "San Bruno was a tragic accident, and we've taken accountability and are deeply sorry," said the spokesperson, who noted the utility has been trying to "do the right thing for victims, their families and the community."

To date, PG&E indicated it has settled claims totaling more than $500 million with the victims and families of the San Bruno incident, along with establishing a $50 million trust for the city of San Bruno and contributing $70 million to support city and community recovery efforts in the residential section of the suburb where the explosion and fire took place.

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