The final arguments in a case against PG&E for 11 counts allegedly violating safety laws that culminated in the San Bruno pipeline explosion began Tuesday. (Noah Berger/2010 AP File Photo)

Prosecutor calls PG&E ‘a company that lost its way’

A prosecutor told a jury in the criminal trial of PG&E Co. in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday that “PG&E is a company that lost its way.”

“For years, they forced engineers to act more like business people than engineers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Schenk said in his closing arguments.

The utility “made a decision to maximize profits instead of prioritizing safety,” Schenk said.

The final arguments in the trial began Tuesday morning after nearly five-and-a-half weeks of testimony in the court of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson.

PG&E’s defense was scheduled to present the company’s side in the early afternoon, to be followed by a prosecution rebuttal.

PG&E is charged with one count of obstructing a National Transportation Safety Board probe into a fatal pipeline explosion in San Bruno in 2010 and 11 counts of violating pipeline record-keeping and maintenance requirements of the federal Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act.

The rupture and explosion of a high-pressure natural gas transmission pipeline and ensuing fire on Sept. 9, 2010, killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood.

The NTSB determined the cause was a defectively welded seam in a pipeline segment that was incorrectly listed as seamless in PG&&E records and not properly tested or repaired.

Schenk reminded the jury, however, that PG&E is not on trial for causing the explosion, but rather for allegedly misleading the NTSB about its testing policy and violating the safety law requirements.

Defense attorneys said at the opening of the trial that PG&E workers never intentionally evaded regulations or safety measures.

But Schenk said Tuesday that prosecutors don’t have to prove that PG&E managers and engineers intended to hurt anyone, but rather only that they knowingly and willfully evaded the testing and repair rules.

He alleged PG&E intentionally developed a testing policy that violated the law by avoiding expensive high-pressure water tests on pipelines that might contain manufacturing risks.

The engineers were “making decisions on data they knew was wrong and choices they knew were fixed,” Schenk said.

PG&E was originally charged with 12 counts of violating the safety law, but prosecutors dropped one of those charges, so the final charges are one count of obstruction and 11 counts of safety law violations.

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