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Opinion: Pacific Gas & Electric needs to pay for its crimes against California

Opinion: Pacific Gas & Electric needs to pay for its crimes against California

by Emma Lauterbach
|October 18, 2022

Firefighters cut through charred debris

The 2021 Dixie Fire, sparked by PG&E’s poor maintenance of equipment and vegetation, devastated a community. photo: Felton Davis

In 2018, a transmission line nearly 100 years old A breakdown and sparks occurred near the small town of Paradise, California. The average life expectancy of a transmission tower is only 65 years. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) – pretty much the only electricity provider 16 million Californians – Failed to maintain their equipment and surrounding vegetation.

That failure caused campfire, the deadliest and most expensive fire in California history. It destroyed the entire town of Paradise, destroyed 18,804 buildings, and burned more than 150,000 acres, an area the size of the city of Chicago.

The Camp Fire killed 85 people, many of them too old or sick to evacuate their homes.

PG&E pleads guilty to manslaughter after Camp Fire, agrees to pay $13.5 billion settlement, promising to compensate wildfire victims, rebuild ravaged ecosystems, and improve safety measures. It’s also trying to reshape its public image, bringing in new management and introducing a company policy that commits to integrating sustainability and climate science into its business model.

The State of California partnered with PG&E to create the Fire Victims Trust, which provides financial support to Camp Fire victims.But according to a report NPRas of June 2022, about half of Camp Fire victims have not received any compensation.

The Fire Victims Trust spent nearly 90 per cent of its funds on day-to-day overhead in its first year, leaving Paradise residents desperate. In addition, the trust was funded in part by PG&E stock, which continued to depreciate, leaving victims worried that they would run out of funds.

“We didn’t hear anything or were offered anything, and it was devastating for everyone,” Jeff Fuller said Act Now News. He lost his home in the campfire.

Then, in 2021, despite promising to do better, PG&E ignored a sick tree that later fell on the distribution line.Poor maintenance of equipment and vegetation this time lead to This Dixie Fire, the largest single wildfire ever recorded in California. It burned nearly 1 million acres, or about 1 percent of the entire state.

This time, PG&E avoided manslaughter and agreed to a $55 million settlement.but california skepticalunsure if they will be adequately compensated and angry that PG&E was not held criminally responsible.

This summer, PG&E flagged one of their transmission poles as potentially faulty. A few days later, before crews were dispatched to fix the problem, another fire broke out on September 6. The 2022 Mosquito Fire is a 76,000-acre wildfire currently burning just 48 miles from my home.

The U.S. Forest Service has seized power poles as evidence that, in the past three weeks, two separate litigation A lawsuit has been filed against PG&E.

But it’s not just PG&E equipment that makes California vulnerable to fires. Electricity generation accounts for 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to one study Report Provided by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Electric utilities contribute significantly to rising global temperatures, erratic climate patterns, and ecosystem collapse.

Many environmental scientists, myself included, feel strongly that industries such as electricity should be held financially responsible for their role in the climate crisis. By assigning monetary value to resources such as clean air and water or carbon storage in plants, it is easier to force companies to compensate.

PG&E is a special case. The company has been releasing carbon into the atmosphere for more than 100 years. It exacerbates the climate crisis, making California hot, dry, and vulnerable to environmental catastrophe; then it causes catastrophe.

Meanwhile, Northern California residents have no choice of electricity provider. We are forced to pay a company that continually puts our environment, communities and lives at risk.

$13.5 billion is not enough. It is not enough to trust unreliable fire victims. One”naturally positive energy system” is not enough.

PG&E should get rid of fossil fuels immediately and completely to prevent further damage to the climate. It should fund research to try to prevent future drought conditions, subsidize restoration and reforestation of burned landscapes, and pay for housing and medical care for wildfire victims.

Most importantly, PG&E should not be allowed to have an unethical monopoly on energy in Northern California.

With the new Inflation Reduction Act, these are reasonable goals. The government has pledged to provide financial support to rural communities, invest in renewable energy, and promise to reduce energy costs for consumers.

With federal support and funding, California residents and policymakers have the ability to hold PG&E accountable for its actions while maintaining our energy security. We can look forward to a zero-emissions future with fewer wildfires and adequate compensation for the many victims of climate change.

But until then, California is suffering and desperately needs help. PG&E must take full responsibility for its serious misconduct. It needs to support its commitment to sustainability and financial compensation. It needs to invest in renewable energy, fund reforestation efforts, adopt effective fire management strategies, and properly maintain its equipment. PG&E needs to stop putting Californians at risk.

Emma Lauterbach is a graduate student in ecology, evolution and conservation biology at Columbia University.

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