CPUC to vote on $1.6 billion fine against PG&E for San Bruno explosion

The California Public Utilities Commission today is set to vote on a proposed $1.6 billion penalty against PG&E for its role in the 2010 gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in San Bruno.

The vote will culminate a yearslong investigation by the CPUC into the San Francisco-based utility giant following the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion and fire in the Crestmoor neighborhood, one of the worst pipeline disasters in U.S. history, said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane.

“[This] will in fact heal a large part of what’s been hanging over our heads for a long time,” Ruane said.

The commission is expected to approve one of two proposed penalties and fines that would be paid by PG&E shareholders. The proposed penalties include $1.6 billion recommended by CPUC President Michael Picker and $1.4 billion recommended in September by the CPUC’s administrative law judges.

The penalties would go toward future gas infrastructure improvements related to transmission pipeline safety and other remedies.

Ruane, however, said San Bruno is also calling for an independent monitor between utilities and the CPUC, as well as a Pipeline Safety Trust. San Bruno is also requesting that more than $2 million in attorney fees related to the explosion is reimbursed by PG&E.

In addition to today’s anticipated penalty, PG&E faces a criminal investigation because of the explosion. Last summer, the utility was charged with obstruction of justice by allegedly lying to investigators, and was also slapped with dozens of charges of violating the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968.

While city officials and residents await the outcome of the criminal investigation, including possible jail sentences and additional fines, San Bruno today hopes to close at least one chapter of the saga.

“It’s taken over four and a half years to get to this point right now,” Ruane said. “It will be a very good thing for the city of San Bruno to get this portion behind us.”

PG&E has not said whether it would appeal the penalty by the CPUC.

“We believe that it is vital that the [CPUC] resolve these gas pipeline investigations in a timely manner,” said Keith Stephens, a PG&E spokesman.

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