With Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) now facing possible murder charges and threatening to declare bankruptcy because of immense fire liabilities, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson said she had little inclination to save the nation’s largest utility company “from falling into the abyss,” adding, “They have continued to behave with complete disregard for their responsibility to provide energy for their customers in a safe manner.” Even with its pending bankruptcy proceedings, the company still has major assets, she said, and the “lights will stay on and the electricity and gas will continue flowing.”
Jackson charged the company has failed to keep its power lines away from nearby trees and disputed the company’s contention that climate change was at fault. PG&E claims it’s been cutting or pruning 1.4 million trees a year, but when drought killed 129 million trees statewide, it couldn’t keep up. Jackson dismissed that as an excuse: “Those fires are not starting at 8,000 feet.” The company’s stock has dropped 83 percent in the last two months in part because of its growing liability. Recently it was found guilty of falsifying documents regarding the San Bruno gas line explosion that killed 8 people in 2010.
In 2017, PG&E’s transmission lines were found responsible for 18 wildfires that burned 200,000 acres and claimed the lives of 22 people. Then came the Camp Fire, during which 86 more people died. In late December, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra floated the possibility of prosecuting the company on murder charges, the theory being the company knew or should have known its transmission lines could have led to such devastation.
In Sacramento, PG&E’s announcement is regarded with a mixture of alarm and a suspicion that the bankruptcy threat might be the precursor of a bailout request. The company has projected $30 billion in potential fire-related liabilities, but has only $1.4 billion in insurance coverage. “It’s the same company, the same leadership, and the same culture,” Jackson said.