California city hit by gas explosion backs tougher penalty

Officials of a San Francisco suburb hit by a deadly 2010 gas-line blast in favor of a plan to raise the penalty against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. by $200 million

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Officials of a San Francisco suburb hit by a deadly 2010 gas-line blast said Tuesday they support a proposal to raise the financial penalty against the utility responsible to $1.6 billion.

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane spoke in favor of a plan by the new head of the state Public Utilities Commission, Michael Picker, to raise the penalty against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. by $200 million.

Federal investigators faulted both PG&E and lax oversight by the utilities commission in the 2010 explosion, which killed eight people in San Bruno.

"A historic penalty of this magnitude sends the right message that gross negligence, corruption and decisions that put profits over people will no longer be tolerated," Ruane said in a statement.

Picker's proposal also would devote more of the utility's penalty payments to pipeline safety upgrades. An earlier proposal still on the table would send most of the penalty payment into California's general fund.

The San Bruno explosion has led to state and federal investigations into allegedly over-cozy dealings between PG&E executives and the utility commission's former head, Michael Peevey, whose term expired earlier this year. No results of the investigations have been announced.

The utilities commission is expected to decide on PG&E's punishment next month.

PG&E, which is California's largest utility, wants a penalty that is "reasonable and proportionate" and takes into account the utility's past spending to improve safety, utility spokesman Greg Snapper said in a statement Tuesday.

Ruane, the city mayor, also renewed San Bruno's demand for the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee both the utility and state regulators in enforcement of the penalty provisions.

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