PG&E gets maximum sentence for fatal San Bruno pipeline blast

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU & AP) -- A federal judge on Monday said he expects to issued a $3 million fine to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. -- the maximum allowed by law -- after a jury convicted the company of deliberately violating pipeline safety regulations before a deadly natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno and then misleading investigators looking into the blast.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson announced the sentence during a hearing in San Francisco. Henderson said the utility has agreed to the monitoring.

The 2010 blast of a PG&E natural gas pipeline killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in the city of San Bruno.

Before outlining the sentence Monday, the judge heard from several victims who lost family members, including Sure Bullis who lost her husband, mother-in-law and son.

The remains of Bullis' son still have not been recovered.

"There was a point in my life that I wanted to end my life," she said. "I truly can say now, with the help of my therapist that I don't want to do that any more."

Minday Spatt, who works for the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group, said the $3 million fine won't dent the utility's bottom line.

"Chump change for PG&E," Spatt said. "We're talking about a huge corporation here. There's only one language PG&E understands and that is money."

PG&E has already paid $1.6 billion in fines from other proceedings. The company will spend five years on probation, under the watchful eye of an independent court-appointed monitor, San Bruno's main priority.

"They're gonna have an independent monitor over their entire operation which is a huge thing for us and for everybody," said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane.

The judge could require PG&E to either disclose the details of its criminal conviction whenever it runs ads about safety, or, in all ads.

The company's employees will be required to complete 10,000 hours of new community service with 2,000 of those hour performed by its senior ranking executives.

"We will not stand by and let this type of event happen again," Bullis said.

The judge is expected to hand down the formal sentence on Thursday. 

KTVU reporter Tom Vacar contributed to this report.

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