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PG&E faces state regulatory fines over its role in deadly inferno

OAKLAND — PG&E should pay a fine for its role in a deadly and destructive Northern California wildfire in 2020, state regulatory staffers proposed on Tuesday.

The state agency fine was proposed due to PG&E’s role in causing the Zogg Fire that scorched sections of Shasta County and Tehama County, killed four people and destroyed 204 structures.

The Public Utilities Commission staff has proposed that PG&E shareholders pay $155.4 million in fines and that the utility undertake corrective actions in the aftermath of the blaze.

The Zogg fire was sparked when a grey pine tree fell onto a PG&E transmission line in the vicinity of Igo, a town near Redding, the PUC said.

The fire eventually consumed 56,300 acres, according to the state Forestry and Fire Protection Department, or CAL FIRE.

In June 2022, PG&E pleaded not guilty to 31 counts of involuntary manslaughter and other charges that were brought against the utility by Shasta County prosecutors.

The state PUC in recent years has imposed far larger penalties against PG&E for its role in causing lethal catastrophes.

In 2020, the PUC voted to impose a $1.97 billion penalty against PG&E for its role in causing a series of fatal Northern California wildfires in 2017 and 2018, which was the largest regulatory penalty ever imposed on an American utility.

In 2015, the PUC imposed a $1.6 billion penalty on PG&E for causing a fatal gas explosion that killed eight people and destroyed a San Bruno neighborhood in 2010. At the time that punishment was levied, the San Bruno fine also was the largest regulatory penalty ever imposed on a U.S. utility.

The corrective actions that the PUC ordered include demands that PG&E greatly improve its recordkeeping for the removal of potentially hazardous trees and vegetation.

In the case of the tree that caused the Zogg Fire, investigators believe that the involved tree at one point had been slated for removal in the wake of the Carr Fire in 2018. PG&E, however, never removed the tree.

“PG&E failed to remove two trees previously flagged for removal due to a combination of poor recordkeeping, poor communication, and lack of caution,” Leslie Palmer, director of the state PUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division, stated in the proposed order.

The state PUC staffers also pointed out that an arborist had warned PG&E that the tree was compromised and in a precarious condition.

“Juxtaposing PG&E’s failure to remove the trees with the Arborist Report — showing that the tree was clearly likely to fall — demonstrates a high degree of culpability in PG&E’s conduct,” Palmer wrote in the state PUC report.

 

 

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