PG&E’s Pacific Gas Company was just found responsible for the 2018 Northern California wildfire and it is proposing to raise it’s utility prices to pay for the deadliest and most destructive wildfire rampaged through Butte County, decimating the town of Paradise and killing 85 people in the Golden State.
The New York Times reported California state officials found evidence directly linking them to the fire that caused them to file for bankruptcy in January.
While consumer advocates and lawmakers have said that allowing PG&E to increase its rates to pay its wildfire costs would amount to bailing out a consistently bad actor, the company and its stakeholders have said it would be bad for everyone if the company failed.
Too Big to Fail
Many of the people displaced by the fire are still seeking resources, and angry at the position PG&E is taking.
“If I caused the fire, I wouldn’t be able to file bankruptcy and I wouldn’t be able to make other people pay for it,” she said. “Why does a company that has so many millions of dollars in insurance get to do it,” Randy Hall, told the LA Times.
When the company filed for bankruptcy protection, saying it anticipated $30 billion in wildfire liability, it tipped off a long, complicated process full of participants with competing but intertwined interest, so victims won’t receive the immediate relief they expect.
What is the State doing?
Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a plan aimed at better equipping the state to pay for what is likely to be increasing wildfire-related costs using a combination of funding sources, including potentially allowing utilities to increase rates to offset their costs — through the proposals were met with some pushback.
While the nation debates many ambitious, equity-centered projects included in most budget proposals, the California Public Utilities Commission, who regulates Proctor & Gamble, approved an Environmental and Social Justice Action Plan that will serve as a roadmap to implement the agencies vision to advance equity in its programs and policies.
Does the plan address corporate responsibility to seek prevention measures?
The Plan lays out nine key goals, with objectives and concrete actions attached to each goal.
- Consistently integrate equity and access considerations throughout CPUC proceedings and other efforts
- Increase investment in clean energy resources to benefit environmental and social justice communities (Environmental Social Justice communities), especially to improve local air quality and public health
- Strive to improve access to high-quality water, communications, and transportation services for ESJ communities
- Increase climate resiliency in ESJ communities
- Enhance outreach and public participation opportunities for ESJ communities to meaningfully participate in the CPUC’s decision-making process and benefit from CPUC programs
- Enhance enforcement to ensure safety and consumer protection for ESJ communities
- Promote economic and workforce development opportunities in ESJ communities
- Improve training and staff development related to environmental and social justice issues within the CPUC’s jurisdiction
- Monitor the CPUC’s environmental and social justice efforts to evaluate how they are achieving their objectives
The Plan identifies ways the CPUC can use its authority to address health and safety, consumer protection, and enforcement across the industries they regulate.
The Plan also highlights how the CPUC can engage directly with Environmental Social Justice communities, build relationships, and gather more information about the issues ESJ communities face and the ways they would like to engage with the CPUC.
- Five of California’s largest wildfires have occurred since 2012
The Plan acknowledges the reality that not all Californians are starting from the same place, and that the CPUC’s responsibility is to serve Californians in a way that helps address those inequities.
While we don’t have control over everything, we can make sure that our work and our programs strive to provide everyone with the consumer protections and other benefits they deserve from the CPUC.
- California Public Utilities Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves
The Clean Energy and Pollution Reductions Act of 2015 (known as Senate Bill (SB) 350) calls upon the CPUC to help improve air quality and economic conditions in communities identified as “disadvantaged”.
For example, changing the way we plan the development and future operations of power plants around the state, or rethinking the location of clean energy technologies to benefit burdened communities.
Additionally, SB 350 requires that the CPUC and the California Energy Commission create a Disadvantages Communities Advisory Group to assist the two Commissions in understanding how energy programs impact these areas and could be improved.
Disadvantaged Communities throughout California suffer from a combination of economic, health, and environmental burdens. These burdens include poverty, high unemployment, health conditions like asthma and heart disease, as well as air and water pollution, and hazardous wastes.
One way that the state identifies these areas is by collecting information related to communities all over the state and their local environments, and then using an analytical tool, CalEnviroScreen, created by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), to determine which are the most burdened or “disadvantaged” by the different factors, taken together.
Insert the name of a city or town in the map’s search box here to see if it is regarded as a disadvantaged community.
Addressing Safety Principles for Communications Providers
With the increased threat from deadly wildfires and other disasters facing California, having a resilient and dependable communications grid that aids first responders and communicates with the public in a timely manner is a matter of life and death, especially for our most vulnerable residents.
We lack such a system today and creating one must be a top priority. A CPUC staff-authored paper identifies regulatory and statutory gaps in communications that, if addressed, would significantly enhance public safety.