SAN FRANCISCO – A new state agency created by the Newsom administration and charged with developing a “long-term utility vision to reduce wildfire and underground risk” has issued a safety certificate to Pacific Gas & Electric, or PG&E, clearing the way for the reviled utility to recover the costs of last summer’s devastating wildfires.
On Monday, the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety announced it had provided PG&E the certificate that “allows the utility to seek recovery of catastrophic wildfire costs from its ratepayers, or from the California Wildfire Fund. . . . It is Energy Safety’s assessment that PG&E has additional work to complete, but is taking steps to improve its operations and culture. This has been documented through the safety certification process.”
The Energy Safety office was created in July 2021, the same month a damaged PG&E power line triggered the Dixie Fire, the second largest wildfire in state history, which burned almost 1 million acres and leveled the entire town of Greenville. PG&E has a long history of chaos and convictions for wildfires it caused, and last month the state’s fire management agency confirmed the company was responsible for the Dixie fire.
“It is hard to conceive of a more offensive response to PG&E’s repeated misdeeds than granting a ‘safety certificate’ after the carnage this company has inflicted on countless families, their property and swaths of California’s landscape over just the past few years,” said EWG President and longtime California resident Ken Cook.
“PG&E and its shareholders should pay for the company’s outrageous negligence, not ratepayers,” Cook said.
The decision by the Newsom administration to issue the safety certificate comes days after a federal judge overseeing the company’s probation for killing more than 100 Californians and destroying nearly 24,000 structures admitted the court had failed to rehabilitate the company following its long track record of mayhem in the state.
"In these five years, PG&E has gone on a crime spree and will emerge from probation as a continuing menace to California,” said U.S. District Judge William Alsup.
The Energy Safety office's decision even acknowledges PG&E hasn’t eradicated the potential for future wildfire problems. It says, “Issuance of the safety certification does not constitute an affirmation by Energy Safety that PG&E has taken all possible steps to prevent its equipment from causing wildfires. Nor does it shield PG&E from liability or litigation.”
The only concrete way to prevent future wildfires caused by PG&E and other large utilities is to reform the current model of centralized electricity distribution that centralized power model that sends energy hundreds of miles through often unmaintained and dilapidated power lines over dry, drought-ridden central and Northern California landscape covered in brush and trees that fuel these fires.
“PG&E has lost all the confidence of the people of California,” said Cook. “It’s beyond time for the state to take control of the company, so it can be a public utility operated solely to serve the interests of customers, not investors.”
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.