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In January, PHSMA urged pipeline operators to check records for gas and liquid pipelines and warned them about the problems leading up to the San Bruno explosion following an urgent set of NTSB recommendations for them to do so.

“The administration is focused on improving safety,” Quarterman said. “We can only take one swallow at a time.”

Safety advocates question that commitment given the government’s hands-off attitude toward the industry.

“In San Bruno, you have the confluence of an enraged public, strong media coverage and public officials willing to step up and adopt better measures,” said Bob Rackleff, president of the watchdog group, Pipeline Safety Trust. “But for every accident like that, there are 10 incidents that lead to no improvements.”

Residents returning to the San Bruno blast site — now a blackened gash carved into the suburban neighborhood of 1960s-era homes — say they are eager for federal authorities to determine what went wrong.

Robert Pellegrini, who lost his home of 35 years, said he wished he could believe that the NTSB’s final recommendations would change policy. But first, “I just wanted the truth about why this happened,” he said.

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Brown reported from Billings, Mont.