PG&E Gets $3M Fine for San Bruno Blast, Must Advertise Its Conviction on TV

A San Francisco federal judge on Thursday imposed the maximum sentence he was able to under the law against PG&E for violating pipeline safety laws before and after the deadly San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in September 2010.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson imposed a fine of $3 million against the utility, a tiny fraction of the $562 million that federal prosecutors originally sought.

A jury last year found PG&E guilty of five counts of violating pipeline safety rules and one count of obstructing a federal investigation of the disaster that killed eight people, injured dozens more and destroyed 38 homes.

Henderson also ordered PG&E to air advertisements explaining its pipeline safety violations. The ads will have to run on the same television networks that the company used during its trial, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle and Wall Street Journal.

PG&E will have to air 12,500 of the commercials over a three-month period, up to a cost of $3 million.

Henderson also sentenced PG&E to five years of probation, and to submit to a court-appointed monitor to ensure that the utility complies with Pipeline Safety Act regulations.

PG&E will also be required to perform 10,000 hours of community service, with at least 2,000 of those hours being performed by high-level personnel.

Henderson strongly recommend that service be geared toward giving back to communities affected by PG&E’s negligence, and to San Bruno in particular.

Earlier, the company protested the prosecutor’s request to restructure PG&E’s bonus compensation program to prioritize safety. Attorneys for the utility argued that PG&E emphasizes safety, and that public and employee safety measures are supposed to make up 50 percent of bonus criteria. They also argued that the proposal could encourage employees to underreport safety incidents.

Henderson declined to support the bonus restructuring on Thursday.

Two years ago, the California Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $1.6 billion for its role in the fatal blast. That money mostly went into safety improvements and into the state’s general fund. PG&E has already settled claims amounting to nearly $500 million with San Bruno victims and families.

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