California Lawsuits Bankrupt America's Biggest Power Company
Pacific Gas and Electric has filed for bankruptcy due to the vast mountain of lawsuits pending against the giant California utility.
PG&E is America’s largest electric utility, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The company cited the volume of lawsuits from fires in 2017 and 2018 in its decision to file for bankruptcy. It faces $7 billion in lawsuits along from the Camp Fire, in which more than 14,000 homes were destroyed, CNN reported.
The bankruptcy filing alters the dynamics of those cases. Lawsuits against PG&E will be shifted to bankruptcy court, The Washington Times reported. Once there, those suing the utility are likely to recover less money, because they will be competing with PG&E’s creditors.
However, as reported by The New York Times, state officials are trying to force the utility to address those claims and also limit and rate increase that could come from a settlement.
“This is a real mess,” said Dan Reicher, formerly a Clinton-era assistant energy secretary. “It comes down to lots of needs: Take care of the fire victims, keep the lights on, ensure progress on climate change and protect ratepayers. That’s at least a partial list.”
The long-awaited filing came even as a federal judge indicted the utility for lax safety systems protecting its power lines.
“Does a judge turn a blind eye and let PG&E continue what you’re doing, let you keep killing people?” District Judge William Alsup said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “Can’t we have electricity that is delivered safely in this state?”
Alsup said PG&E has violated its probation in a 2010 gas explosion, and said he believes its safety policies are linked to deadly Northern California wildfires.
Alsup likened the utility to a drug dealer on probation who commits a different crime than the one for which he is on probation.
“You’ve got to be on your absolute best behavior — no more crimes,” Alsup warned.
Although state fire investigators have cleared PG&E of blame in one deadly fire, Alsup noted that in 17 others, PG&E equipment was linked to the blazes.
“Those fires killed 22 people, burned alive in their cars and homes,” Alsup said. “There is one clear pattern here: PG&E is starting these fires. Global warming is not starting these fires.”
Alsup is demanding the PG&E make safety changes.
“In two years, 3 percent of California burned up,” Alsup said. “Think about that. Three percent of the whole state burned up. We cannot continue to sustain these kinds of catastrophic injuries to the state, death and destruction. PG&E is not the only source of these fires, but it is a source and to most of us it’s unthinkable that a public utility is causing that type of damage.”
Adding to the sense of outrage is a report in the San Francisco Chronicle that PG&E is getting ready to pay out $130 million in 2018 in bonuses to its managers.
“That is the height of chutzpah,” said Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court.“It’s worse than a bad look. It’s immoral.”
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