San Francisco

Judge Dismisses 15 Charges Against PG&E, Still Calls Case Serious

A federal judge in San Francisco Wednesday dismissed 15 of 28  pipeline-safety-related criminal charges against PG&E Co. but said his  action doesn't affect the seriousness of the case.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson also turned down motions by  the San Francisco-based utility for dismissal of the remaining charges.

PG&E is scheduled to go on trial in Henderson's court on March 8  on the 13 counts left in place.

The criminal charges are one of several state and federal  proceedings stemming from investigations into PG&E's pipeline practices  following the fatal rupture and explosion of a high-pressure natural gas  transmission pipeline in San Bruno in 2010.

Eight people died, 66 were injured, and dozens of houses were  destroyed and damaged in the explosion and ensuing fire.

In another of the proceedings, the California Public Utilities  Commission in April levied a record $1.6 billion penalty and fine on PG&E for  violations related to the explosion, record-keeping practices and pipeline  operations in densely populated areas.

The federal criminal charges now include one count of obstructing  justice in a National Transportation Safety Board probe and 12 counts of  violating record-keeping and pipeline integrity management requirements of  the U.S. Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act.

Henderson ruled on five motions filed by PG&E lawyers in July and  September that sought dismissal of all counts in the 2014 federal grand jury  indictment for several different reasons.

The judge rejected four of those motions, but granted PG&E's  request for dismissal of some overlapping charges related to the pipeline  integrity management requirements.

Henderson wrote that instead of charging violations on a  pipeline-by-pipeline basis, the indictment should group the alleged  violations into five general categories related to the requirements.

The alleged violations in each category are "a single course of  conduct," Henderson wrote.

At the same time, the judge said, "This conclusion does not  diminish how serious PG&E's alleged failure to heed the integrity management  regulations was, or how dangerous it was for PG&E to fail so many times  over."

The NTSB concluded that the cause of the San Bruno explosion was a  defective seam weld in a pipeline segment that was incorrectly listed in PG&E  records as seamless.

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