SAN BRUNO, Calif. —
On Thursday Pacific Gas & Electric announced that it expected to be criminally indicted by the U.S. Attorney for the deadly San Bruno blast, but one day later, papers have yet to be filed.
The September 2012 blast killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
If PG&E does not plead guilty, this highly complex legal case has a long way to go.
Just before the San Bruno blast, attorney Brigham McCown had left as head of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Now a consultant to government and industry, McCown doesn’t believe current or former PG&E employees will be indicted.
“This was a development in the making for more than 50 or 60 years and those responsible aren’t even with the company longer. In order to charge someone criminally, there has to be some willful, wanton, disregard of public safety. You know, frankly, I don’t see that in this case,” says McCown.
As a lawyer, he questions whether the U.S. Attorney has the authority to indict the company. “For Federal pipeline safety, generally, it has to be interstate system and PG&E is an intrastate system meaning it stays within the state of California. That safety agency determined after the incident that the CPUC was the proper authority to investigate not the Federal safety agency and given the fact my former agency declined jurisdiction that does raise an important issue,” he says.
Other experts who spoke with KTVU said because PG&E’s in state system receives gas from out of state pipelines owned by others, that may be enough to convince a Federal judge to grant jurisdiction. While McCown says PG&E deserves California fines and punishment, he says others also contributed to what turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.
“This was an event a long time in the making. Whether or not San Bruno should have permitted houses that close to a transmission line, whether the CPUC should have had a more active oversight for 20, 40 years longer,” says McCown.
To say the least, PG&E’s comments and video ahead of an actual indictment is unusual and could indicate it intends to fight the charges.