Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will pay the maximum $3 million fine and has agreed to a court-appointed monitor to oversee its compliance with safety regulations after a federal jury convicted the utility of deliberately flouting pipeline safety laws in connection to the deadly natural gas pipeline explosion that decimated part of San Bruno, California.
But the company is pushing back against prosecutors’ demands that it restructure its employee bonus program and develop an advertising campaign publicizing its criminal conviction and loose safety oversight. Prosecutors argue that the $3 million fine alone would be nothing but a “drop in the bucket” for the state’s largest utility company. They pressed U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson to impose a “serious sentence that will alter (PG&E’s) safety culture for good.”
PG&E’s Sept. 9, 2010, pipeline blast blew up part of the city of San Bruno, killing eight people and injuring 58 others. The explosion also destroyed 38 homes and damaged several others.
In August, jurors convicted PG&E of five of 11 counts of pipeline safety violations, including failure to properly evaluate potential pipeline risks, deliberately misclassifying high-risk gas lines to avoid spending money on extra testing, and obstructing investigators probing the blast.
The California Public Utilities Commission previously fined PG&E $1.6 billion for violations in connection with the blast, but the utility avoided paying a $562 million fine when prosecutors suddenly chose not to pursue the fine if PG&E was convicted on any of the pipeline safety counts.
Despite the criminal convictions, “no PG&E employees were charged, so no one is facing prison time,” the AP reported.
Prosecutors have asked Judge Henderson to restructure PG&E’s employee bonus program to reward safety over meeting budgets and earnings, the Associated Press reported. Prosecutors have also asked the judge to allow some blast victims to speak at the sentencing hearing.
Judge Henderson was originally expected to sentence PG&E on Jan. 23, but pushed the hearing back to Jan. 26 to give him more time to consider comments by lawyers for the government and PG&E.