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Who Should Pay When Power Lines Ignite Destructive Blazes?

PG&E may be responsible for California's deadliest blaze - should they pay for damages?

by Countable | Updated on 11.16.18

What’s the story?

  • Wildfires in California have killed at least 63 people while 631 remain missing or unaccounted for. Though the cause of the massive Camp Fire in Northern California remains under investigation, Pacific Gas & Energy said earlier this week that it “experienced an outage” on a transmission line 15 minutes before the blaze broke out.

Lawsuit blames Camp Fire on PG&E

  • A new lawsuit blames the Camp Fire on PG&E, alleging the utility failed to properly inspect and maintain its power lines.
  • Though the cause of the Camp Fire remains under investigation, the utility company said on Tuesday that it submitted an "electric incident report" to the California Public Utilities Commission on Nov. 8, just before the fire started.
  • And on Nov. 5, PG&E's CEO told stockholders she'd renew the utility's drive to change the California state policy of "inverse condemnation," which holds utilities responsible for any damage done by their equipment—even if they haven't done anything intentionally wrong.

PG&E's responsibility - or not

  • Stocks for PG&E had plunged on Thursday over concerns that the utility, if found responsible, would go bankrupt paying off its liabilities. But the stock rebounded Friday after the president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) indicated that the state would work with the utility to ensure it wouldn’t be crippled by lawsuits.
  • "An essential component of providing safe electrical service is the financial wherewithal to carry out safety measures," CPUC President Michael Picker said in a statement.
  • Picker also noted that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill last year where, as CNN explained, “the CPUC is now required to consider a utility's finances when determining the maximum amount it can pay without harming customers when evaluating damages caused by wildfires.”
  • When that bill was being considered, PG&E had argued that the real culprit in wildfires is climate change. They said that as a shifting climate makes wildfires more frequent and severe, utilities won’t be able to survive financially if they’re always held liable for damages.
  • "California's existing liabilities laws weren't made for the new normal that we face going forward with these climate driven wildfires," said Steve Malnight, a senior vice president at PG&E. "It's creating really significant financial risk to the utilities which will limit our ability to continue making the investments we need going forward."

What do you think?

Wildfires are burning across the California. Who should be held responsible for their damage? Are they the result of a changing climate? Hit Take Action and tell your reps, then share your thoughts below.

—Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: @ForestServiceNW via Twitter)

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Written by Countable

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(258)
  • J. scott
    Voted Yes
    11/16/2018
    ···

    Their Insurance company should pay and if uninsured they should pay - no bankruptcy whining allowed. Also, governments should require that all these companies maintain insurance for the risks that they pose. You gotta do that with car insurance or if you’re self insured you gotta pay. Aren’t corporations people now? Seems like I read that somewhere.

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  • Ronald
    Voted No
    11/16/2018
    ···

    One could only hold Power companies responsible if the state allows them to clear brush, and branches too close for safety. It is not fair to hold someone responsible for damages while preventing them from controlling the danger.

    Like (33)
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  • Judith
    Voted Maybe
    11/16/2018
    ···

    The primary responsibility should be pg&e if they are truly responsible but we can’t bankrupt our utilities & may need special funds

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  • operaman
    11/17/2018
    ···

    Not me! Was never near that place of ignition. So let the power companies pay the bill. But when the power company say the will bankrupt, watch the state pay the damage by using taxpayers tax dollars.

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  • Mark
    Voted Yes
    11/16/2018
    ···

    PG&E has insurance. It covers them for this sort of thing even though the tab will be quite literally stratospheric. So NO the US taxpayer WILL NOT pick up the tab for this. PG&E must eat this and pass the cost on to California consumers. Then and only then will people in California feel enough financial pain to stand up, shout out and finally force the state to stop with the idiotic forestry policies. Policies that have turned the state into a tinderbox waiting to be set ablaze at any moment.

    Like (14)
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  • JTJ
    Voted No
    11/17/2018
    ···

    Either way the citizens will pay for it through utility prices or taxes. And the environmentalists who don’t allow for the forest to be properly cleared, will be allowed to keep making dangerous policies.

    Like (11)
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  • Gregory
    11/17/2018
    ···

    This is clearly PG&E's obligation. Being a public utility, in addition to the fact that many of the homes are luxury homes, the ultimate cost will end up being paid by PG&E customers. We sometimes have to accept unpleasant facts like this. You NEED your utility and a bankrupt utility will not be able to fully pay all the costs and will not be able to function properly as a supplier of electricity. Our hearts & prayers go out to all the victims of this horrific fire.

    Like (4)
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  • Dalton
    Voted Maybe
    11/17/2018
    ···

    Just remember that this will cause the cost of power to go up so either way, the taxpayer/end user will pay for it.

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  • burrkitty
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    That’s what the power companies have insurance for.

    Like (9)
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  • David
    Voted Yes
    11/16/2018
    ···

    The power companies own the lines, the maintenance, upkeep, and consequences of running power through those lines are their responsibility. They make the profits but also have responsibility for the negative consequences, without passing those costs on to their customers or the taxpayers.

    Like (9)
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  • Brian
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    Yes. If corporations want government subsidies and other handouts, they also must accept responsibilities for their mistakes. Utilities are no exception. They should pay.

    Like (8)
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  • Keith
    Voted Yes
    11/16/2018
    ···

    If found to be at fault due to not maintaining their infrastructure then absolutely they should pay.

    Like (7)
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  • PLD
    Voted Yes
    11/16/2018
    ···

    Power companies that fail to maintain equipment and clear surrounding areas of excessive brush should be held responsible assuming that state provides clearance to do so. Should a fire begin for other than negligence to maintain safe equipment and surrounds then, the power company should not be held responsible. Consideration must be made as to financial resources and a cap be placed if expense harms consumers / does excessive harm to power company, however.

    Like (6)
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  • RyanGlaspell
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    It is a tense, sorrowful time in California. While PG&E had no ill intent, if they are found to be the source of the fire due to under-inspected power lines, we need to hold them accountable and set the precedent that companies have a heightened responsibility to ensure that they are practicing the highest level of scrutiny when it comes to the safety of those around the community.

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  • Claude
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    Duke Electric is another example of a lack of corporate responsibility. Two hurricanes ago, their coal ash polluted waters throughout North and South Carolina, they paid a $150 million dollar fine. Tax payers covered the $3 Billion and counting clean up fee. Wells Fargo rips off customers for years and gets hit with a fine that does not even impact it quarterly earnings. Let the penalty hurt so bad they regain their moral integrity or put them Out of business...and until our Legislators stop taking money from these robber barons, it’s never going to stop!

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  • Leigh
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    I was evacuated from the Sonoma fires. I have friends who’s house were destroyed in that fire. PG&E absolutely should pay since it was their negligence that made the first of multiple fires start. That would be a YES from me, my family, friends and fellow community members.

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  • Dave
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    PG&E is a private company with stockholders, not a public government utility, operated and owned, like some government run utilities. The PG&E stock jump, in the thought of a government bale out. Corporations want it both ways be private, with no oversight, getting tax cuts that tax payers pay for, make a profits at consumers expense and CEO pay out $$$, but want the American taxpayers bank roll them and bale them out just like banking industry, because they didn’t want to reinvest, but run to failure! One thing about run to failure is, it works 100% of the time! The power lines are in the air, not on the ground. The brush that people talk about clearing is for lighting strikes. The power companies clear their right away of trees and brush. This was a failure. I would rather help the people that lost everything, if helping them is helping PG&E than maybe, but I don’t want to hear all the CEO, CFO, management and stock holders got wind fall! I want the tax cut back, most likely they used it to buy back their stock!

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  • William
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    Please hold corporations accountable

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  • Jim2423
    Voted Yes
    11/16/2018
    ···

    PG&E has been know to wane routine maintenance, more like burned down maintenance. So if power line failed then yes power company should pay. If a bird caused the fire due to arcing across the lines, then no. Records show when maintenance, brush cutting and tree trimming has been done. It is a no brainer. I worked for the power company for forty years and never did we have a massive fire. Don’t blame your line crews or tree trimmers, it is a management thing.

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  • Mathias
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    If you remove the responsibility, you remove the risk evaluation out of the business decision making process. As a consequence, decision makers are not investing nearly enough in risk mitigating solutions. You end up with more risk, more fire, more disasters etc. Eventually, even if it hurts everybody on the short to mid term, you need to make an example in order to improve our long term outlook.

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  • RickEberhardt
    Voted No
    11/17/2018
    ···

    Who will ultimately pay for it? The rate payers.

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  • SneakyPete
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    CALIFORNIA 🌳 FIRE RESPONSIBILITY If they done the CRIME (Poor Forest 🌳 Management), They must pay the fine, Folks. It’s sadly, the name of the game. SneakyPete..... 11*16*18.....

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  • KitsuneXx
    Voted Yes
    11/17/2018
    ···

    It is time to start holding corporations responsible for their damage to the environment! Just because we have an idiot president doesn't mean we have to have idiot lawmakers. Get with it. Please. Our lives are depending on it. All the money in the world won't help you if life on Earth is not viable.

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