Jan. 10, 2019
After two years of California wildfires that have been linked or potentially linked to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), an explosion that the utility faced criminal charges for, and continued allegations of violating state laws, California regulators are determining what to do about PG&E.
A federal judge is already overseeing the utility’s probation following the San Bruno pipeline explosion, and if the utility faces criminal charges in any of the recent California wildfires PG&E could see even stricter probationary measures put in place.
The utility also faces possible murder or manslaughter charges linked to the California wildfires and allegations it falsified its records for years. In addition to possible fines and sanctions from state regulators, PG&E faces lawsuits filed by wildfire victims, who say the utility was negligent in the maintenance and operation of its power lines and equipment.
Additional PG&E lawsuits could be filed if regulators determine the utility is responsible for the Camp Fire.
PG&E Allegedly Falsified Records for Five Years
PG&E California faces possible penalties from the California Public Utilities Commission after the commission found the utility falsified its records for five years by not locating and marking its natural gas pipelines. Because these records were due on a deadline, PG&E reportedly pressured workers and managers to falsify their data so it would appear that the work had been done on time.
Additionally, the commission found that PG&E did not hire enough workers to carry out the tasks of locating and marking natural gas pipelines regularly. Locating and marking natural gas pipelines is vital because construction crews rely on that information to ensure the spots they dig are safe.
Utility Already on Probation for Explosion
That explosion was found to be PG&E’s fault, and as a result, the utility was placed on probation and fined more than $1.6 billion for unsafely operating its gas transmission system. In 2017, PG&E was put on another five years’ probation related to the explosion. As part of the probation, the utility is prohibited from committing further criminal acts.
In federal filings, however, officials said PG&E may have already violated its probation by not telling its probation officer that it paid $1.5 million to Butte County in Oct. 2018 for its role in three of 2017’s fires. Furthermore, the utility allegedly did not advise the courts that the District Attorney in one of the counties affected by the fires was conducting a criminal investigation into the company’s role in the fire. The investigation was ultimately dropped with no charges filed, but the investigation should have been reported.
Following reports that PG&E falsified its records, Federal Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing PG&E’s probation, proposed changes to the terms of that probation.
“In light of PG&E’s history of falsification of inspection reports, PG&E shall, between now and the 2019 Wildfire Season, re-inspect all of its electrical grid and remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines, poles or equipment in high-wind conditions,” Alsup wrote in a filing. Additionally, he said the company would be required to monitor wind conditions and shut down power to any parts of its grid that were unsafe under wind conditions. Source: https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/01/09/pge-feds-allege-utility-violated-terms-of-its-criminal-probation-in-the-san-bruno-explosion-judge-sets-hearing/
PG&E Employees Saw Flames Around PG&E Equipment
After 2018’s Camp Fire (also known as the Paradise Fire), US Federal Judge William Alsup demanded PG&E answer questions regarding the role it or its equipment may have played in causing any of 2017 or 2018’s California wildfires.
PG&E submitted its report as requested by Alsup and noted that several of its employees saw fires at or near PG&E equipment around the time the fires started. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) determined the fire started at two spots that involve PG&E equipment: the first along PG&E’s Caribou-Palermo transmission line and the second along the PG&E Big Bend distribution line.
The Caribou-Palermo transmission line experienced a malfunction and outage at around 6:15 a.m. the morning the Camp Fire started. Multiple employees and contractors saw flames at or near equipment in that area, including flames beneath PG&E power lines, raising the possibility that this was a PG&E wildfire.
California Wildfire Attorneys
Utilities like PG&E have a duty to ensure their equipment is properly operated and maintained and the vegetation around its equipment is adequately cleared to prevent the risk of a PG&E fire. The utility has repeatedly faced allegations that it violated state law, putting the lives of California residents at risk and causing catastrophic damage to numerous counties.
At Cutter Law, we’re committed to holding companies like PG&E accountable for their actions and our highly skilled attorneys have a proven history of success in fighting against insurance companies and utilities. If you or someone you love was affected by the Camp Fire, contact us to find out how we can help you.