We had some warning last month, and now KRON 4 brings a reminder that, nearly six years on, PG&E is about to finally face criminal charges over the infamous San Bruno cul de sac inferno of 2010 that destroyed 38 homes, killed eight people, and injured dozens more. The trial, which will begin jury selection on April 26, will take PG&E to task on 13 criminal counts
The utility is accused of violating pipeline safety rules and obstructing a subsequent federal probe into the disaster, which everyone in the Bay Area who was here six years ago will clearly recall for the geyser of gas-fed flame many stories high.
As the Mercury News reports, PG&E faces a fine of up to $562 million if found guilty.
Those witnesses for the government include Peter Darbee, the ex-CEO who headed PG&E during the years before and after the explosion; Brian Cherry, a former PG&E regulatory executive whose emails revealed cozy ties between the PUC and PG&E and a culture of lazy oversight of PG&E by the state agency; and Paul Clanon, former PUC executive director.
Other key prosecution witnesses include Leslie McNiece, a former PG&E employee who was hired to improve the utility's record keeping system for its pipeline network, and Howard Lubow, a gas industry expert who will testify that PG&E placed profits ahead of safety, court files show.
PG&E's attorneys were trying to delay the trial because of what they say is a mountain of 200,000 documents supplied by federal prosecutors, but U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson denied that request.
In court papers, the prosecution writes, "The government intends to offer proof that PG&E's willful decisions not to maintain records, conduct proper pipeline assessments and otherwise comply with federal pipeline safety regulations were part of a corporate culture of prioritizing profits over safety."
The fines the company will face will come in addition to the $1.4 billion they've already been fined by the state and the Public Utilities Commission.
A pair of administrative law judges previously ruled in 2014 that PG&E had committed "nearly 3,800 violations of state and federal law, rules, standards and regulations in connection with operation of its gas transmission system," leading to the compromised high-pressure gas main that destroyed an entire neighborhood.
Will an Erin Brockovich-style movie ever come of this case? Just maybe.