PG&E was indicted on 12 federal felony violations on Tuesday for the fatal 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion that occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area, killing eight and injuring 66 individuals.
The indictment carries a potential fine of $6 million, which can increase if the court finds that the company benefited financially due to the disaster, The Associated Press reported
The blast leveled 38 homes in the California city of San Bruno in September 2010, when the gas pipe ruptured and sparked a fireball that engulfed the surrounding area. Federal prosecutors allege that the cause of the fatal explosion stemmed from PG&E knowingly and willfully violating the federal Pipeline Safety Act and its regulations, the Oakland Tribune reported
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"The citizens of Northern California deserve to have their utility providers put the safety of the community first," U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said in a prepared release. "Today's indictment of PG&E for violating the minimum safety standards established by the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act reflects the company's failure to follow that very basic principle."
In its indictment, prosecutors cited a report from investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board that found that PG&E’s failure to correct existing pipe problems that were initially discovered by the company’s own inspectors was the cause of the blast.
San Bruno officials reportedly responded with applause following the announcement of the felony charges.
"The indictment validates the city's position that there was gross mismanagement and negligence," City Manager Connie Jackson told the AP. "What San Bruno hopes is that the criminal indictment brings a measure of justice and closure for the citizens and victims."
In response to the indictment, PG&E Chairman and CEO Tony Earley said earlier in the week that the company holds itself accountable and is deeply sorry for what occurred.
"We have worked hard to do the right thing for victims, their families, and the community, and we will continue to do so," Earley said in a statement. "We want all of our customers and their families to know that nothing will distract us from our mission of transforming this 100-plus-year-old system into the safest and most reliable natural gas system in the country."
As for whether or not there was criminal intent behind the apparent negligence, PG&E’s parent company, PG&E Corp., dismissed those allegations on Tuesday, claiming the "federal criminal charges filed today have no merit."
"PG&E believes that its employees did not intentionally violate the federal Pipeline Safety Act, and that even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe, reliable, and affordable energy," the statement continued.
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