Over the week including the 4th of July holiday, Governor Newsom pushed through passage of a PG&E bailout bill, AB 1054, as an urgency bill and without proper vetting. As Assemblyman Mark Levine said, “AB 1054 could be viewed as a reward for its (PG&E’s) monstrous behavior”. Legislators voted yes as a favor to our new Governor and to shore up PG&E’s credit rating under threat from Wall Street.
This bill left out a critical contributor to PG&E’s financial weakness, specifically, wildfire mitigation to actually prevent utility-caused fires. As reported in the Wall St. Journal (July 10, 2019):
PG&E Corp. knew for years that hundreds of miles of high-voltage power lines could fail and spark fires, yet it repeatedly failed to perform the necessary upgrades.
The CA State Legislature must amend AB 1054 to ensure that utilities perform necessary fire mitigation and to hold utilities companies accountable when they do not.
Details outlining the necessary changes to AB 1054 were recently sent in a letter to state legislators signed by 30 different Indivisible chapters, 350 groups and other progressive advocacy groups representing thousands of Californians from across the state. These amendments are crucial in a time of increasing threat from wildfires due to climate change and include:
· Requiring utilities to maintain/update neglected utility power lines.
· Require yearly independent audits for compliance with wildfire mitigation.
· Ensuring the regulatory process is transparent, and that information relevant to public safety is readily available.
· Removing barriers to formation of municipal utilities, so local governments can produce their own power (and reduce reliance on long-distance electrical transmission)
Leaving the bill as is unnecessarily exposes Californians to the danger of future wildfires and their enormous costs, many of which ultimately fall on taxpayers. The deadly Camp Fire that killed 85 people and razed the town of Paradise was started by PG&E transmission lines; preventing such disasters is obviously in the interests of all Californians.
With “fire season” now all year round and the fires growing in size and damage, our legislature, along with the California Public Utilities Commission, should be doing everything they can to ensure transparency and accountability from the utility companies that have often been the cause of these fires. We need to protect our state and residents as well as the financial positions of utility companies.
Duane Bindschadler is a Venice resident