As survivors of the blast looked on, attorneys for California’s largest utility entered the plea in federal court in San Francisco to 12 felony violations of federal pipeline safety laws.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero noted prosecutors’ request to increase the maximum fine PG&E could face to more than $6 million, if the court decides the company somehow benefited financially or saved money as a result of criminal misconduct.
San Bruno city officials hailed the ruling as a positive step and said they believed company officials should be charged as well.
“We look forward to PG&E being fined the maximum amount allowed by law to send a message not only to that corporation but to the industry,” San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson said.
PG&E said in a statement the company is holding itself accountable and does not believe any employee intentionally violated federal regulations.
No individual PG&E employees have been charged criminally. Prosecutors could file superseding indictments naming individuals if the investigation warrants.
Prosecutors allege that PG&E knowingly relied on erroneous and incomplete information when assessing the safety of the pipeline that eventually ruptured and sparked a fireball that killed eight people, destroyed 38 homes and injured dozens of others.