Bryan Cohen Aug. 12, 2013, 6:24pm

LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) - Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced an $1 million agreement on Monday with Consumers Energy to create a response fund to help victims of natural gas disasters.

The Natural Gas Incident Response Fund will also fund improved safety and training practices for first responders and utility workers in Michigan. Schuette's office pursued the settlement after a natural gas explosion damaged 30 homes and took the life of a Consumers Energy customer in February.

"What happened to Daniel Malczynski was an inexcusable tragedy, and my heart goes out to his loved ones," Schuette said. "The two main goals of this $1 million agreement are, first, to ensure tragedies like this are not repeated, and second, to provide a safety net for Consumers Energy customers who face the unthinkable tragedy of a natural gas disaster.

Most of the settlement fund, $900,000 worth, will be made available to customers impacted by natural gas disasters. Consumers Energy will inform its customers of the creation of the fund through inserts included with billing statements.

"It's not good enough to just respond to victims after the fact," Schuette said. "We must do all we can to ensure mistakes of the past are not repeated. To accomplish this, Consumers Energy will complete an independent study of the best natural gas safety practices in the industry and train Michigan utility workers and first responders to better respond to natural gas incidents for the protection of the public."

The settlement agreement is independent of the Michigan Public Service Commission's ongoing inquiry into the Royal Oak explosion and any sanctions that could follow the inquiry. In April, Consumers Energy admitted that its employees did not follow important safety standards meant to protect the public in an interim report.

"Michigan families deserve the highest standards of safety, and the commitments achieved with this agreement are the first steps toward strengthening public safety for the citizens of Michigan," Schuette said.

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