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Reports: PG&E Pleads Not Guilty To Federal Charges From San Bruno Pipeline Blast

Public utility company PG&E Corp. (PCG: Quote) on Monday pleaded not guilty to federal charges against its utility unit in connection with the fatal 2010 gas pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno, California, according to media reports on Monday.

The September 9, 2010 explosion of PG&E's natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California, killed eight people, injured 58 others and destroyed a residential neighborhood. PG&E's Pacific Gas and Electric Co. unit was the target of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice.

In early April, the utility was indicted by a federal grand jury for the Northern District of California and charged with 12 felony counts of violating safety regulations leading up to the deadly blast in San Bruno. The indictment alleges PG&E of "knowingly and willfully" violating the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act or PSA of 1968 and its regulations between 2003 and 2010.

According to the indictment, the charges stem from PG&E's record keeping and pipeline "integrity management" practices. The indictment alleges that PG&E failed to address recordkeeping deficiencies concerning its larger natural gas pipelines, knowing that their records were inaccurate or incomplete.

PG&E could reportedly face nearly $3.5 million in statutory penalties if found guilty of all 12 felonies. An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

PG&E has spent more than $1 billion on safety improvements since the explosion, which regulators have said could be counted toward paying the fine.

PG&E said that following the San Bruno accident, it adopted new, rigorous pipeline safety standards. PG&E Chairman and CEO Tony Earley, who was brought in to lead PG&E in 2011 after the San Bruno accident, has noted in late March that the company committed $2.7 billion of shareholders' money to date and the company was making excellent operational progress.

The company has settled claims amounting to nearly $500 million with the victims and families of the San Bruno accident, established a $50 million trust for the City of San Bruno for costs related to recovery, and contributed $70 million to support the city's and community's recovery efforts.

PCG closed Monday's trading at $44.78, down $0.09 or 0.20 percent on a volume of 1.81 million shares.

by RTT Staff Writer

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