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San Francisco Sues U.S. for Enforcement Failure in Explosion

San Francisco sued a federal agency for failing to enforce safety standards before the 2010 explosion of a PG&E Corp. gas line in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people.

The lawsuit, filed today in federal court in San Francisco, claims the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration ignored safety standards for more than 10 years before the explosion, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in an e-mailed statement today.

“One of the most troubling findings to emerge in the 18 months since the San Bruno tragedy is that regulators were either asleep at the switch or far too cozy with the industry they’re supposed to regulate,” Herrera said in the statement.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is part of the U.S. Transportation Department, “continues to flout recommendations” from the National Transportation Safety Board, which faulted PG&E and inadequate governmental enforcement for the explosion, Herrera said. The suit seeks a court order requiring the agency to enforce gas pipeline standards, Herrera said.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is “committed to its core responsibility to protect people and the environment” and “devoted hundreds of hours of staff support and technical expertise agency” to understanding the San Bruno explosion, spokeswoman Jeannie Layson said in an e-mailed statement.

‘Common Responsibility’

The agency will work with California and San Francisco officials, who “share a common responsibility to improve pipeline safety,” Layson said.

A California Public Utilities Commission report last month determined that PG&E’s violations of state and federal laws caused the natural-gas pipeline explosion that destroyed 38 homes. The commission has yet to vote on the report. PG&E said in a statement on Jan. 12 that “past gas operations practices were not what they should have been.”

In August, the transportation safety board determined that San Francisco-based PG&E’s inadequate quality controls coupled with deficient company management led to the explosion. The case is City and County of San Francisco v. U.S. Department of Transportation, 12-cv-0711, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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