FEMA Threatens To Bill Wildfire Victims If PG&E Doesn't Pay

Megan Goldsby
January 13, 2020 - 10:24 am
Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, Windsor October, 2017

Weriset/Getty Images

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(KCBS Radio) — FEMA says PG&E owes it billions of dollars for helping to fight wildfires in recent years.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has demanded that the utility pay up or warned that it might seek reimbursement from residents from the scorched areas of the Bay Area and Northern California. 

These are fires that have been proven or suspected to have been started by PG&E's power lines and other equipment. 

Since PG&E is now paying damages for its fault in fires from 2015, 2017 and 2018 as part of its bankruptcy case, FEMA wants a piece of the settlement— nearly $4 billion.

"This is clearly a PG&E expense," state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said. "No one asks to have their houses burn down. We can't shortchange the victims who lost so much just to balance FEMA's books with regards to FEMA costs. Paying for helping victims, at the end of the day, is what FEMA is all about.

"It's unusual for FEMA, in my opinion, to go back and go after victims to try to force them to pay for something we all pay for," he continued. "That's the best use of our tax money, is to help people in need, to help victims of natural disasters."

Eric Goodman, an attorney representing a committee of fire victims in PG&E's bankruptcy case, didn't mince words when rejecting FEMA's suggestion.

"We don't want that money to be used for that purpose. Simple as that. We want the money to be used to compensate the victims," he said. "It would mean a nearly 30% reduction in the amount of money that would be available on a total basis to pay the fire victims."

FEMA did not respond to KCBS Radio's inquiries. 

For its part, PG&E has released a statement saying  FEMA does not have a valid legal claim against the company, and that "the Bankruptcy Court has approved our settlement agreements resolving all major wildfire claims."