Judge Cuts Proposed Fine Against PG&E for California Pipeline Blast

A judge has tremendously cut a $562 million fine against Pacific Gas & Electric Company in a criminal case alleging the company violated federal pipeline safety regulations prior to a disastrous natural gas explosion in California and then obstructed investigators.

With no explanation given, the U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson issued the order on Tuesday. The prosecutors also offered no explanation as to why they decided to seek a much lower fine against the utility after more than a month of testimony and several days into jury deliberations.

Jurors are still deciding whether PG&E is guilty of multiple charges filed following the explosion in 2010 that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in San Bruno.

If found guilty, the utility faces a $6-million fine as opposed to $562 million for 11 counts of pipeline safety violations and obstructing investigators after the explosion.

Robert Weisberg, criminal law professor at Stanford University, suggested that prosecutors may be concerned that the jurors would think the original fine was too much money and too much of the jurors’ time to sit through a possible penalty phase, thus would side with the gas utility out of anger toward the prosecutors.

Brandon Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law stated that the original fine against PG&E was meant to act as a deterrent and that the revised proposed fine was a “massive and unexplained discount” given by the prosecutors.

"Obviously, if a company does not have to pay a fine that is larger than its gains, then its crime becomes profitable," Garrett said.

ABC News