PG&E Could Face Murder Charges for Role in CA Wildfires

Photo: Dylan Mittag

After state officials revealed that California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, had caused some of California’s wildfires in the last two years due to downed power lines, a flurry of legal action has arisen to hold PG&E accountable. A class-action lawsuit by wildfire victims last fall alleged negligence on the part of the utility, with the filed complaint stating that “Even though PG&E knew that its infrastructure was aging, unsafe, and vulnerable to weather and environmental conditions, it failed to fulfill these duties, and failed to take preventative measures in the face of known high-risk weather conditions, such as de-energizing its electrical equipment.”

To add to the embattled utility’s legal woes, Utility Drive reported that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told a federal judge in late December that PG&E could be tried for murder or manslaughter if the utility is found to have operated its equipment in a “reckless” manner that helped to spark the state’s deadly wildfires in the last two years. Becerra stressed his office has not reached any conclusions.

Additionally, late last week in response to Federal District Court Judge William Alsup’s November order that PG&E “provide an accurate and complete statement of the role, if any, of PG&E in causing and reporting the recent Camp Fire in Butte County” the utility acknowledged possible culpability for 18 burns in the past 2 years of widespread and deadly wildfires. However, as SF curbed reported, attorneys Randy Mehrberg and Reid J. Schar avoided commenting directly on the cause of the Camp Fire—which is still under investigation—and deferred to prosecutors as to whether PG&E will be held accountable for any recent fires.

Why This Matters: If PG&E is found liable for its role in California’s wildfires in civil court it could be on the line for billions of dollars, which will likely be passed along to its ratepayers. The fact that the utility cannot manage its own risks has raised the question of whether or not utilities are obsolete and operate recklessly knowing that they will be bailed out with their customers’ money. As Jigar Shah, co-founder of Generate Capital and co-host of the Energy Gang podcast said: “one word, microgrids….utility companies have not gotten into the 21st century” explaining that PG&E had not put in sensors or used supercomputers to try and predict risk of wildfires and suggested that in the future we transition away from large electric utilities altogether and instead focus on microgrids.

Up Next

General Motors’ Massive “COP” Out

General Motors’ Massive “COP” Out

On Tuesday, while governments struggled mightily to deal with the climate emergency at the UN Climate Meeting and U.S. stakeholders tried to make lemonade out of the U.S. pullout of the Paris Accord by proclaiming that U.S. Governors, Mayors, and major corporations are “Still In,” back in Detroit, General Motors rolled out their largest SUV ever — adding 7 full inches to the Tahoe truck. 

Why This Matters:  Transportation accounts for 23% of carbon emissions globally according to the IPCC.  As long as gas is cheap, car companies will keep making gas guzzlers and the public will keep buying them.

Continue Reading 314 words
Germany Is Closing Nuclear Power Plants — But What To Do With the Waste For A Million Years?

Germany Is Closing Nuclear Power Plants — But What To Do With the Waste For A Million Years?

Where does one store nearly 2,000 containers of high-level radioactive waste that is absolutely unbreakable and guaranteed to never leak? That is the challenge facing a team of German scientists tasked with figuring out how to safely close down all of Germany’s nuclear power plants by 2031 — and the bar is high — they […]

Continue Reading 494 words
Trump Administration Wants to Ditch Energy-Efficient Dishwashers

Trump Administration Wants to Ditch Energy-Efficient Dishwashers

The Trump Administration announced its intention to roll back yet another climate change efficiency standard.  The Hill reported that the Energy Department is planning to allow faster-cleaning dishwashers that do not comply with current energy efficiency standards, which will overturn years of progress on making these appliances energy efficient.

Why This Matters:  Many Americans will give thanks on Thursday for their dishwashers. And most do not object to the time it takes for them to operate – they just want clean, safe dishes. 

Continue Reading 389 words