By Paul Elias Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Gas &Electric was charged Tuesday with lying to regulators in connection with a fatal pipeline explosion that leveled a suburban Northern California neighborhood in 2010.
The U.S. attorney in San Francisco announced the obstruction of justice charge and 27 related counts, which are in a new indictment charging the utility with felonies. It replaces a previous indictment that contained 12 counts, but not obstruction.
Prosecutors say PG&E hampered the investigation by lying to regulators immediately after the blast. In particular, PG&E officials are accused of telling National Transportation Safety Board investigators that the safety procedures being followed were correct and approved.
The other charges accuse the utility of failing to act on threats in its pipeline system even after the problems were identified by its own inspectors.
PG&E faces hundreds of millions of dollars in fines if found guilty.
The utility announced in June that it was expecting the new indictment. PG&E spokesman Greg Snapper said company officials had not yet seen it.
“However, based on all of the evidence we have seen to date, we do not believe that the charges are warranted and that, even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe and reliable energy,” he said in a prepared statement.
PG&E said in May that it has committed $2.7 billion over the next several years for safety-related work following the incident.
Its profits were weighed down in its most recent quarter by $40 million in legal and safety improvement costs tied to its natural gas business.