California Government Approves PG&E Safety Certificate

Despite 91 crimes and two ongoing criminal investigations into forest fires blamed on PG&E, state regulators officially called it “safe.” The reason involves money.

SACRAMENTO, Calif .– The five voting members of the California Utilities Commission effectively certified PG&E as an officially “safe” public service on Thursday, under a 2019 law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom.

The CPUC granted the monopoly of electricity a 2021 security status certificate although PG&E was charged this month with 33 felonies in Sonoma County for starting the Kincade fire in 2019 and is under investigation for possible murder charges in Shasta County in due to the Zogg fire in 2020, which killed four people.

Several critics told the five CPUC commissioners on Thursday that the security certificate gives PG&E a “license to burn.”

Under AB 1054, the state law that saved PG&E from bankruptcy, utilities pre-certified as “safe” are not required to prove that they acted reasonably to charge customers for the cost. damage caused by flames.

The safety certificate also gives PG&E the ability to tap into a multibillion-dollar state forest fire fund, paid for by customers, to help pay for damage to fire victims – and possibly more importantly, it caps the amount of fire damage that PG&E shareholders would be on the hook to repay the fund.

After the 2018 camp fire, PG&E warned it caused around $ 30 billion in forest fire damage. He settled his bankruptcy for $ 25 billion.

“If this had been in place during the fires of 2017, 2018 and 2019, PG&E would have been forced to pay around $ 4 billion. Not for the tens of billions,” said Nat Skinner, who heads the public safety program. of the CPUC. Lawyers office.

The commission, headed by five appointed governors, gave its pocket-friendly approval to PG&E’s safety certificate overnight by abruptly rescinding a Thursday vote to revise it.

The move had the effect of “approving the security certificate but doing so in a shameless way where it won’t be logged,” according to Mark Toney, who heads The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group that asked the commissioners to reject the certificate.

“They just don’t deserve this safety certification,” Toney said. “It is not a safe business.”

PG&E pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of manslaughter and one other felony for starting the 2018 camp fire that killed company victims.

At the time, PG&E had already been convicted by a jury of six felonies in the deadly San Bruno gas explosion in 2010.

PG&E initially obtained its 2021 safety certificate in January in a letter written by the head of the CPUC’s fire safety division.

TURN lambasted the “last minute” decision to overturn the vote, writing that the decision “deprives taxpayers of their constitutional right to appeal an administrative decision to the courts.”

AB 1054 “does not require the Commission to ratify” the safety certificate, wrote CPUC director Rachel Peterson in a letter to TURN on Wednesday evening, informing the group that the vote was “unnecessary” and would be canceled.

The CPUC voted on Thursday to put PG&E on what it calls “enhanced oversight,” a move that in effect requires PG&E to submit more reports to the CPUC on how it is resolving problems encountered in meeting some of its goals. of security.

NOTE: This story is part of the ABC10 FIRE – POWER – SILVER reporting project. If you have a tip that could help learn more about the California crisis with utilities and wildfires, please contact investigative reporter Brandon Rittiman at [email protected]

WATCH NEXT: California Wildfires: How PG&E Continues to Avoid Liability | Special FIRE – POWER – SILVER

Bernard P. Love