Criminal charges should be filed against the top executives of PG&E in connection with last year’s deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion, a Green Party candidate for mayor said today at a protest in San Francisco.
In a rally outside PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters timed to coincide with today’s first anniversary of the explosion and resulting fire, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, Terry Joan Baum said the company’s executives needed to pay.
“We need to put these executives in prison because that’s the kind of wake-up call corporate America will respond to,” Baum said.
Baum and her group of slightly more than a dozen supporters alleged that PG&E had fired whistleblowers who pointed out safety problems, pushed out experienced employees who knew how to handle emergencies and lobbied extensively against safety regulations in the years prior to the blast.
They argued that the explosion demonstrated that private corporations could not be trusted and that utilities should be placed in public hands.
Burlingame resident Pat Gray, a member of the Peace and Freedom Party who spoke at the rally, said she helped evacuate her sister from San Bruno following the explosion, and had two other friends who lost their homes.
“This disaster should be the last straw for private for-profit control of our utilities,” Gray said.
John Rizzo, a member of the City College Board of Trustees and a public power activist, said residents needed to know where other potentially risky pipelines are located.
“We demand to know where those pipelines are, what condition they are in and when they’re going to be replaced,” Rizzo said.
PG&E issued a statement in recognition of the one-year anniversary of San Bruno and in response to the protest, saying the company has reflected upon and learned from the tragedy.
“Out of our sadness and regret has come an ironclad commitment to help the community rebuild and to refashion PG&E’s management and operating practices to make sure we operate our pipelines as safely as possible,” PG&E President Chris Johns said in the statement.
The company also released a lengthy list of steps it has taken to improve safety in the year since the explosion, including improved inspection and testing of pipelines, development of better emergency response plans, the hiring of new executives, engineers and other employees and the separation of its gas and electric operations.
Work is underway on efforts to test and replace pipelines where necessary, install more remote and automatic shutoff valves and sensing equipment, and to create a central records database.
San Bruno residents are holding a remembrance ceremony later this evening at Skyline College to mark the anniversary of the explosion.
The ceremony is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be attended by various city officials and people who lived in the Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood affected by the disaster.
Sara Gaiser, Bay City News