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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

City Blames Feds for Pipeline Explosion

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - San Francisco blames the U.S. Department of Transportation and the federal agency that oversees natural pipeline safety for the pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people in 2010 and set a neighborhood ablaze.

The City and County of San Francisco sued the U.S. Department of Transportation and its dependent agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in Federal Court.

San Francisco blames the PHMSA for failing to keep up with national safety standards and inadequate oversight. It claims the agency failed to assure that California pipelines complied with federal safety standards under the Pipeline Safety Act.

The agency "has been shirking that duty for over a decade, if not longer," the complaint states. "As a consequence, there have been a series of natural gas pipeline disasters in recent years that have resulted in numerous deaths and injuries and widespread destruction of property."

The worst such explosion came just after 6 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2010, when a Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline exploded in San Bruno, killing eight people, injuring more than 50, and damaging more than 100 homes.

"Events surrounding these recent pipeline disasters paint a disturbing picture," San Francisco says, claiming that the PHMSA and the California Public Utilities Commission "placed a blind trust in the companies that they were charged with overseeing - to the detriment of public safety."

San Francisco sued the two federal agencies and their top administrators, but did not sue the California Public Utilities Commission.

San Francisco claims the federal pipeline agency "has never identified, much less utilized, metrics - i.e., objectively measurable criteria or guidelines - that would allow PHMSA to evaluate, with any degree of accuracy, the effectiveness of a gas pipeline operator's safety program."

San Francisco seeks a declaration that Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood and PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman violated their duty to make sure federal pipeline standards were enforced, and a permanent injunction requiring them to comply with their duty, plus costs of suit.

It is represented by Danny Chou, its chief of complex and special litigation.

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