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In this Sept. 9, 2010, file photo, a massive fire roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, Calif., following a gas pipeline explosion. / Paul Sakuma, AP

A team of California regulatory judges have imposed $1.4 billion in penalties against Pacific Gas & Electric related to a 2010 gas pipeline explosion in a San Francisco suburb that killed eight people, including a mother and her 13-year-old daughter.

In the announcement released Tuesday, the California Public Utilities Commission called the fine against the PG&E "the largest safety related penalty ever levied by the CPUC." PG&E, the state's largest utility, can appeal the fine.

The blast registered prompted nationwide alerts regarding aging pipelines. One of the victims, 44-year-old Jacqueline Greig, worked for a consumer advocacy unit of the CPUC and had been reviewing investment proposals related to aging pipelines. Greig's daughter, Janessa Grieg, 13, also died in the disaster.

California regulatory judges issued a $1.4 billion penalty on Tuesday against the state's largest utility for a 2010 gas pipeline explosion that engulfed a suburban San Francisco neighborhood in fire, killing eight people and prompting national alerts about aging pipelines.

Company representatives could not immediately be reached by telephone, but did issue a statement saying PG&E acknowledges that a penalty is appropriate.

"We have respectfully asked that the commission ensure that the penalty is reasonable and proportionate and takes into consideration the company's investments and actions to promote safety," PG&E said.

The commission previously ordered PG&E to pay $635 million for pipeline modernization in the wake of the Sept. 9, 2010, blast in the suburban San Francisco community of San Bruno. It was California's deadliest utility disaster in decades.

A 30-inch natural-gas transmission line installed in 1956 ruptured, destroying more than three dozen homes and enlisting the entire community to help with attempting to rescue people. At the time, survivors described the heat of the blast burning the back of their necks like a blowtorch as they ran away. The explosion was so strong that residents, emergency responders and the media thought it was an earthquake.

A 2011 investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the rupture occurred in a weak weld in a pipeline that PG&E records had shown as being smooth and unwelded. PG&E neglected to shut off natural gas feeding the fire until 95 minutes after the blast, the federal investigators said.

The 2011 probe found PG&E's safety management of its pipelines overall deficient and ineffective. At the same time, the federal board also faulted what it called the ineffectiveness of California's Public Utilities Commission in regulating the power utility, whose service area covers all but the southern one-third of California.

This year, federal prosecutors separately indicted PG&E on 27 counts alleging the utility violated pipeline-safety requirements. Another federal count alleges PG&E lied to the National Transportation Safety Board in that agency's investigation of the San Bruno blast.

PG&E faces additional fines of more than $1 billion if convicted of the federal charges, which are separate from the financial penalties that the California state administrative judges weighed.

PG&E pleaded not-guilty to the federal counts earlier in August.

Contributing: Associated Press



Copyright 2014USA TODAY

Read the original story: PG&E fined $1.4B for deadly 2010 gas line blast

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