On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the San Bruno gas explosion, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has asked a federal judge to throw out the fed’s criminal case against it, arguing that state regulators have exclusive authority to regulate pipeline safety.
PG&E argued, in papers submitted Labor Day, that it has already been socked for $1.6 billion by state Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulators and cannot be penalized the addition $1.13 billion the feds are seeking.
“We submit that exclusive means exclusive, and that federal prosecutors and the Department of Justice cannot seek a second penalty,” PG&E lawyers argued.
Tomorrow, September 9, is the five-year anniversary of the explosion that ripped through a 30-inch diameter steel natural gas pipeline. Eight people died and the fire and explosion leveled 35 houses and damaged more. It took as much as 90 minutes to shut off the gas after the explosion.
The fire ball shot flames nearly 1,000 feet in the air and created a crater 40 feet deep and 167 feet long.
In April 2015, the CPUC fined PG&E a record $1.6 billion for recordkeeping violations and the integrity of management programs that led to the explosion. The decision came after 30 months of regulatory discovery and 32 days of hearings.
The fine was 15 times larger than any penalty ever imposed after a gas pipeline accident in the U.S., according to PG&E.
In 2014, the federal government then indicted PG&E criminally for 12 counts of alleged violation of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act, including many of the same allegations involved in the state fine, according to the utility.
It includes failure the maintain repair records, identify pipeline transmission problems, and failure to provide threat assessments among others.
California has imposed huge penalties and significant reforms related to regulatory violations alleged, but the federal government now seeks to add another layer of punishment, PG&E argued. The utility asked U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson to dismiss those allegations.
There is a hearing tentatively set for Oct. 19 in San Francisco to hear arguments.
PG&E’s federal criminal trial is set for March 8, 2016.
Case: U.S. v. PG&E, No. 14-175TEH