The summer will determine whether Californians should lose whatever remaining faith they have in government’s ability to force PG&E to put profits before safety.
Public confidence in PG&E already stands at an all-time low.
PG&E’s negligence and incompetence during the last 10 years has killed more than 100 Californians and burned tens of thousands of homes. The utility became a convicted felon in 2017 for its role in the 2010 San Bruno explosion that killed eight and destroyed a quiet residential neighborhood. PG&E then pleaded guilty in 2020 to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter for causing the deadly 2018 Camp Fire that burned the town of Paradise.
The Sonoma County district attorney on Tuesday filed criminal charges against PG&E over the 2019 Kincade Fire, which injured six firefighters, destroyed 374 buildings, burned more than 120 acres of land and forced 100,000 people to evacuate their homes. The 33 charges include five felony and 28 misdemeanors for recklessly causing the Napa wine country fire. PG&E acknowledged that its equipment had caused the Kincade Fire but said it does not believe it was criminally liable. If the utility knowingly broke state safety laws before the the blaze, anyone found guilty of negligent behavior deserves a harsh prison sentence.
Now another fire season is rapidly approaching. It raises the question of whether PG&E has — finally — learned its lesson and whether the governor, Legislature and California Public Utilities Commission are capable of regulating the utility.
Yes, climate change is contributing to the problem, creating longer, hotter, drier conditions that contribute to greater wildfire risk. A Sierra snowpack survey registered a troubling 59% of the historical average, a direct result of what is the third driest year ever in California. And yes, this winter PG&E installed a new CEO in Patricia Poppe and a new board of directors as part of the conditions set by the governor and the Legislature for the utility’s exit from bankruptcy court.
Poppe has said all the right things since taking over at PG&E in January. She said in February that she has confidence in its wildfire mitigation plan and that she will work to “ensure that we care for all those who were harmed, and that we make it safe again in California.”
But we’ve heard that sort of promise from PG&E leadership before, followed by a series of broken promises.
Newsom is expected to announce in the next week that he and the Legislature have agreed to provide $500 million in emergency funding to reduce wildfires in California. The funding would thin forests, conduct prescribed burns and help protect homes and businesses.
An audit by the agency’s wildfire safety division has found that the utility did not properly clear away dangerous vegetation from around its powerlines, instead focusing more on lower-risk lines.
If the resolution is approved, PG&E will have to submit a corrective action plan to the agency and CPUC staff will monitor its implementation and decide whether to remove the utility from the oversight process or advance it to the next step. …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment
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