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PG&E emails show utility was 'very aware' of safety trade-offs, prosecution says

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PG&E emails show utility was 'very aware' of safety trade-offs, prosecution says

Internal PacificGas and Electric Co. emails show attempts to conceal communicationsafter the San Bruno, Calif., pipelineexplosion and to cut spending on safety before the incident, prosecutorsin the company's criminal case said.

In the immediate aftermath of the Line 132 rupture in San Brunoin September 2010, PG&E engineer Frank Dauby tried to discourage fellow employeesfrom self-incriminating, according to an email the prosecution hopes to use as evidence.

"In this email, written three hours after the San Brunoexplosion, Dauby tells his colleagues not to put anything in . Thisis quintessential consciousness of guilt evidence," the prosecution wrote ina July 13 filing with the court.

"A jury may properly conclude that Dauby anticipated animpending investigation, including a review of corporate emails. … [T]his emaildemonstrates willingness on the part of a PG&E employee to withhold, conceal,and prevent the creation of potentially incriminating evidence."

In the exchange, Dauby also said that if his colleagues haveto correspond about the incident, they should include an attorney on the email sothat they could call it privileged communication.

"This advice, a suggestion to improperly invoke the attorney-clientprivilege, is also consciousness of guilt evidence," the prosecution wrote."A jury may conclude that Dauby knew that PG&E had something to hide."

PG&E has asked the court to prevent these emails from beingused as evidence, arguing against their relevance, among other objections.

Before the San Bruno pipeline rupture, which killed eight peopleand leveled a neighborhood, PG&E employees discussed which system integritymanagement projects could be "reduced to make ends meet," the prosecutionnoted, citing internal emails.

Dauby wrote that external corrosion direct assessments wouldnot be as effective as more comprehensive — but more expensive — in-line inspections,and the emails show that PG&E employees knew they legally had to use the technologythat was "best suited" to detect pipeline threats.

In other emails, however, Dauby talked about PG&E using direct assessmentsinstead of in-line inspections, noting that "all who were involved at the timewere very aware that these decisions were made for financial, not technical reasons."

Months after the San Bruno explosion, Dauby said past pipelineassessment decisions were made for "financial, not technical reasons,"the prosecution noted in a recent motion. In other emails, PG&E employees revealthe lack of strength test pressure reports for Line 132, the prosecution added.

Federal prosecutors charged the PG&E Corp. subsidiary with 12 felony counts of violatingthe Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act, along with obstructing the National TransportationSafety Board's investigation into the pipeline explosion. The prosecution must demonstratethat the company willfully and knowingly committed these crimes to secure a guiltyverdict.