Jeffrey Schaub/KCBS Radio

Politician Seeks To Protect PG&E From Fire Liability

Jenna Lane
November 22, 2018 - 5:30 am

A Southern California lawmaker is reportedly preparing a bill that would help PG&E avoid bankruptcy if it were found liable for the Camp Fire.

An adviser to Pasadena's Assemblyman Chris Holden told Bloomberg he's working on a way to help PG&E manage any financial liability for the 2018 wildfire, which has become the most deadly and destructive in state history. Authorities said on Wednesday that 83 people had been killed and more than 18,000 buildings had been wrecked in Butte County from the inferno, according to Cal Fire

“We want to send a signal to the financial markets that we are not going to leave the utilities flapping in the wind,” Kellie Smith, chief consultant for the Uttiliites and Energy Committee, told the East Bay Times. Holden chairs that committee. 

“If a utility goes bankrupt, that will hurt ratepayers a lot more than this mechanism we are creating to make the utility pay until it hurts," said Smith. 

The bailout would be similar to legislation that state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) advanced and Gov. Jerry Brown approved regarding the 2017 fires linked to PG&E.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) objected to the 2017 measure and the one expected to be brought up soon in Sacramento.

“I don’t want them to go bankrupt, but I think there are alternatives,” Hill told KCBS Radio. He would like lawmakers to examine the idea of a publicly, not investor-owned utility.

Holden's staff did not respond to KCBS' request for comment.

“We can’t continue this way,” Hill said. “We have to look at some alternatives, whether we go in that direction or not, we need to have that conversation. The first thing we should not be doing is bailing out PG&E at this point in time. The ashes aren’t even cold yet.”

PG&E has issued statements to the effect that right now, it's focused only on helping its customers recover from the latest wildfires.

PG&E has acknowledged having technical problems shortly before the fire ignited in Butte County, but has also reminded critics that Cal Fire has not determined what sparked the flames. 

“There will be a time and a place for all of this, but right now, PG&E is solely focused on helping the first responders and helping our customers recover and rebuild,” PG&E spokeswoman Andrea Menniti said Tuesday.​

Written by Brian Krans.