Climate change will soon expose a crippling problem embedded in the nation’s infrastructure. In fire-ravaged California, it already has.
Light from a train is seen as it rounds a bend near the Sacramento River as flames from the Delta Fire fill a valley in Delta, California on September 6, 2018. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP)
Pacific Gas and Electric said it plans to file for bankruptcy protection amid potentially vast liabilities resulting from the deadly California wildfires. The announcement Monday, in the form of a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, follows the resignation of the utility’s chief executive, Geisha Williams, a day earlier. John Simon, the company’s general counsel since 2017, will serve as interim chief executive.
Officials are investigating whether the utility’s equipment sparked the Camp Fire in November, a blaze that killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes.
In addition, Cal Fire investigators have ruled that PG&E equipment was involved in at least 18 of the more than 170 fires that swept Northern California in October 2017. The agency found that the company may have broken state law in 11 of those incidents and referred the cases for possible prosecution. MORE
In California, the concept of “corporate personhood” will be tested if PG&E faces charges of aggravated murder, as many media sources now speculate. Although California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says that the extent of PG&E’s liability in this year’s deadly wildfires has yet to be determined, there has been discussion of inflicting the death penalty on a corporate “person” that has repeatedly proven itself to be a criminal recidivist.
In this case, the “execution” of PG&E would consist of revoking the company’s charter and breaking it up, and selling off its assets to new, smaller power companies that would hopefully be more responsible in the way they maintain their equipment and serve their ratepayers. Alternatively, the state of California could step in and take over, turning PG&E into a public, not-for-profit utility.
All of that is speculation, for the time being. What is becoming clear is that, at the very least, PG&E was criminally negligent by failing to follow state regulations on maintaining its power lines. In a document obtained by CNBC News this past November, PG&E acknowledged that it may bear responsibility for the Camp Fire in which 88 people perished and nearly 14,000 buildings were destroyed. MORE