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POSTED March 19, 2012 8:18 p.m.

PG&E PRESENTS NEW $5B GAS SAFETY PLAN TO CPUC: SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. executives are proposing a $5 billion plan to boost safety standards on the company's natural gas lines.

PG&E made its proposal Monday during a California Public Utilities Commission hearing. The utility wants its customers to pay the lion's share of its plan, but it has not clarified exactly how much money would come from ratepayers.

After the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010, the commission required that all state utilities to plan how to pressure-test or replace any untested segments of their transmission lines.

The commission will review the proposals from PG&E and other utilities before approving costs or setting new safety requirements.

Last week PG&E said it will pay $70 million in restitution for the Sept. 9, 2010 blast in the San Francisco suburb that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

FIRST LADY TALKS TO LETTERMAN ABOUT TARGET VISIT:  NEW YORK (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama says she thought for sure her cover was blown during an undercover visit to Target last year when a woman approached her in the detergent aisle.

But the first lady told David Letterman on Monday the woman only wanted help with a package she couldn't reach.

During Obama's visit to CBS' "Late Show," Letterman held up a picture of her after she put on sunglasses and a baseball cap to try to visit a Washington-area store last September.

Obama said the woman apparently was oblivious of the fact she had asked a favor of the first lady and said "you didn't have to make it look so easy" after the detergent was retrieved.

"That was my interaction," Obama said. "It felt so good."

JUDGE RULES AGAINST GRAND CANYON SKYWALK DEVELOPER: FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A Las Vegas developer must keep fighting in tribal court as he tries to retain his contractual rights to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a federal judge ruled Monday.

David Jin invested $30 million to build the glass bridge on the Hualapai reservation in northwestern Arizona and signed a revenue-sharing and management contract with the tribe in 2003. But the two sides have been locked in a dispute for the past year that led the tribe to cut Jin out of the contract and Jin to pursue legal remedies to what he claims are violations of his constitutional rights.

Attorneys for Jin recently argued that the tribe acted in bad faith in asserting tribal court jurisdiction, but U.S. District Judge David Campbell disagreed Monday. The judge said Jin must first exhaust remedies in tribal court in Peach Springs and issued a stay in the federal case.

Jin's attorneys said they will challenge the ruling but have not yet decided on a venue. They said they are surprised by what they called a narrow interpretation of the law regarding the bad faith exception to exhausting remedies in tribal court. Campbell ruled that bad faith must be demonstrated by the tribal court itself, rather than the Tribal Council.

"This is unprecedented in that we're aware of no case where a tribe has taken the contractual rights of a non-(American) Indian in this kind of fashion," said attorney Mark Tratos.

ROMNEY SEEKS PRIMARY-FIGHT BREAKING POINT IN ILL.: CHICAGO (AP) — His confidence surging, Mitt Romney pointedly ignored his Republican rivals on the eve of Tuesday's high-stakes primary election in Illinois and turned his fire instead on the Democrat he hopes to oust in the fall.

Romney pushed into President Barack Obama's home territory, assailing Obama's economic credentials on the Chicago campus where the president taught for more than a decade. At the same time, GOP contender Rick Santorum struggled to explain why the nation's unemployment rate is not his top concern and why the economy isn't the issue that defines the race even as he tried to rally anti-Romney conservatives.

The contrasts offered a look inside two campaigns seemingly moving in different directions, just one day before Illinois voters decided what could be the most significant Republican contest through the end of the month.

"Freedom is on the ballot this year," Romney told students and supporters at the University of Chicago, contending that the nation's recovery from recession was being limited by an "assault on our economic freedom" by Obama. "I am offering a real choice and a very different beginning," he said.

Romney was trying to show he was more than ready to rise above the grinding GOP primary battle and move toward a general election matchup against Obama. The front-runner, he has secured more delegates than his opponents combined, and his nomination seems more assured each week as Santorum's shoestring campaign struggles under the weight of continued disorganization.

BALLOON PILOT KILLED IN GA., PASSENGERS ARE SAFE:  ATLANTA (AP) — As a fierce thunderstorm that seemed to come out of nowhere closed in, hot-air balloon pilot Edward Ristaino spotted an open field 4,000 feet below and calmly and tersely warned the five skydivers aboard the craft, "You need to get out now."

He may have saved their lives, but he lost his own.

With lightning spidering across the sky and the wind rocking their parachutes, the skydivers floated safely to the ground, while the balloon was sucked up into the clouds, then sent crashing to earth. Ristaino's body wasn't found until Monday, nearly three days later.

"If we would have left a minute later, we would have been sucked into the storm," said skydiver Dan Eaton.

The group had taken off Friday evening, ascending into a blue sky from a festival in Fitzgerald, Ga., about 175 miles south of Atlanta.

COLO. WILDFIRE NEARLY CONTAINED, EVACUATION LIFTED: DENNVER (AP) — Evacuated residents of the small Colorado town of Eckley and surrounding areas have been allowed to return home after a wildfire on the state's northeastern plains that injured firefighters and filled the skies with thick smoke that hid the flames from response crews and closed a highway.

Firefighter Jennifer Struckmeyer was in critical condition in the hospital's burn center on Monday, said Gene Haffner, spokesman for the North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley.

HAWAII REACHES $15.4M SETTLEMENT IN HIKERS' DEATHS: HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii will pay $15.4 million to settle a lawsuit involving two hikers who fell to their deaths on Kauai in 2006.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday the out-of-court settlement is subject to approval by the state Legislature.

Honolulu attorney Mark Davis represented the family of Elizabeth Ann Brem, an attorney who worked in Orange County, Calif. Davis says the Brem family will receive $15 million.

Kauai lawyer Teresa Tico represented Brem's cousin, Paula Andrea Gonzalez Ramirez, a businesswoman from Bogota, Colombia. She says Ramirez's family will receive $425,000, a lower amount because she didn't earn as much as her cousin.

Brem and Ramirez were visiting Kauai when they fell from Opaekaa Falls.

A Kauai judge previously ruled that the state was liable in their deaths.

 

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