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Federal Pipeline Safety Agency Sued Over Deadly Pipeline Explosion

In a bit of twist on the 2010 pipeline explosion that rocked San Bruno, the San Francisco city attorney recently filed a lawsuit against the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

In September 2010, a pipeline owned by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) exploded in a San Bruno neighborhood burning down several dozen homes, injuring over 50 people and killing another eight residents.

According to the lawsuit, the federal pipeline safety agency "shirked" its duty by not protecting the public from gas leaks and pipeline explosions. Papers filed in a federal district court allege that PHMSA is not properly enforcing the 40-year-old federal safety act.

PHMSA is required to enforce the Pipeline Safety Act, but the agency basically trickles down the responsibility by certifying local state agencies to handle inspections and enforcement. The end result: pipelines were basically left unregulated in California with occasional "meaningless" inspections.

The city attorney is not pursuing action against the state's California Public Utilities Commission because it felt that the state agency was at least taking more action than the federal agency.

And the city attorney's office is not the only one placing blame on the agency. A report issued last August by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also placed blame on PHMSA for blindly trusting pipeline operators. Prior to the explosion, PHMSA had given the state public utilities agency nearly perfect scores for years. The NTSB's report, however, said that both the state and federal agencies did not properly identify problems with PG&E's pipelines.

It is believed that this may be the first lawsuit of its kind.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "City Sues Over 2010 Pipe Blast," 2/15/12.

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