SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The utility responsible for a deadly pipeline explosion in Northern California said Friday that the record $2.25 billion in fines being sought by state regulators is illegally excessive, but did not offer a specific dollar figure it considers reasonable.
In a 103-page filing submitted just before the close of business, Pacific Gas & Electric said that it agrees with the California Public Utilities Commission’s finding that a financial penalty is appropriate for the September 2010 explosion that killed eight people.
But the utility argued that its shareholders are already paying $2.2 billion in system upgrades and other improvements in response to the blast, and that any fines should be deducted from that amount.
“PG&E has fully accepted moral and legal responsibility for this tragic accident,” company lawyers wrote. “However, the proposed penalty of $2.25 billion ignores the fundamental truth of this tragedy: this accident was not the result of willful or knowing violations of state law, federal standards, or Commission orders, policies or directives.”
PG&E did not return a message seeking comment.
CPUC judges are expected to decide later this year how much the company should be fined for safety violations that led to the explosion.
In addition to causing the eight deaths, the rupture of a gas pipeline in the San Francisco Bay Area city of San Bruno sparked a fireball that also left dozens injured and destroyed 38 homes. Federal and state safety regulators have blamed the rupture on the failure of a decades-old faulty weld and PG&E’s failure to conduct thorough inspections.
Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for the Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco consumer advocacy group, said PG&E’s proposal to apply its future safety upgrades toward its past failures amounted to the company “suggesting no penalties at all.”
“It’s an insult to the people of San Bruno and all of PG&E’s customers,” Spatt said. “Every single investigation into this explosion have found PG&E responsible, yet PG&E has the nerve to say, ‘Why blame us?'”
Connie Jackson, San Bruno’s city manager, took issue with the utility’s argument that the proposed fine is excessive.
“What happened in San Bruno was excessive, as was the destruction created in our community,” Jackson said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.