In the largest ever fine to be imposed by California's Public Utilities Commission, PG&E may be slapped with a $1.4 billion fine for the institutional negligence that led up to the 2010 explosion in San Bruno that took the lives of 8 people, injured 66 people, and destroyed 38 homes. The decision arrived today, nearly four years after the tragedy, in a series of recommendations by a pair of administrative law judges to the five-member commission, citing "nearly 3,800 violations of state and federal law, rules, standards and regulations in connection with operation of its gas transmission system," as the Business Times reports.
The commission has been routinely criticized for being too easy on PG&E, and though the fines have not been officially imposed, this opportunity may be the one they'll use to prove that they aren't so lenient.
San Bruno city officials have accused the PUC of being too closely in bed with the utility, recently citing a letter "inviting a federal official to a safety symposium sponsored by the CPUC that was almost identical to a draft written by a PG&E staffer," as ABC 7 reported. The PUC had previously said it was considering up to $2.5 billion in fines.
This $1.4 billion includes $950 million fine paid to the state General Fund, and $400 million to be spent in pipeline improvements that must come from shareholders, not customers. And it should be noted that this fine is in addition to the $1.3 billion to potentially come via a federal criminal case over the San Bruno blast, and in addition to the $635 million in improvements that PG&E has already been asked to absorb, as the Chron notes. PG&E pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges last month, insisting that "employees were always acting in good faith" in the actions that led up to the disaster.
Multiple civil lawsuits brought by the affected families are also ongoing.
SFist just received the official release from noted local PR spin-master Sam Singer, who in this case is representing the City of San Bruno, saying that the city will holding a press conference at 3 p.m. and San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane will be available to speak with members of the media about the decision.
Update: PG&E has released the following statement.
"Since the 2010 explosion of our natural gas transmission pipeline in San Bruno, we’ve been dedicated to re-earning the trust of our customers and the communities we serve. We are deeply sorry for this tragic event. “We are accountable and fully accept that a penalty of some kind is appropriate. However, we have respectfully asked that the Commission ensure that the penalty is reasonable and proportionate and takes into consideration the company’s investments and actions to promote safety. Moreover, we believe any penalty should directly benefit public safety. “We’ve worked hard to do the right thing for the victims, their families and the community of San Bruno. Beyond this, all of us at PG&E have committed ourselves to a goal to transform this company into the safest and most reliable energy provider in America. We’ve hired some of the best gas experts in the country to help guide this effort and supported it with billions of dollars in shareholder funding. “We have made tremendous progress but we’re not done. We have more work to do and we won’t rest until it’s done and done right.”