Protesters took over a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) meeting on power company PG&E’s safety culture Thursday morning, responding to the company’s possible role in starting the Camp Fire, SF Weekly reports. The hearing was part of a three year investigation into PG&E’s safety practices by the CPUC.
PG&E, one of Californias biggest utilities, is suspected to be responsible for the Tubbs Fire last year, which was California’s most destructive and deadly fire in history until it was overtaken by the Camp Fire this month. It’s still unknown whether PG&E was responsible for starting the Camp Fire, but there are several indications that the company may be to blame.
From SF Weekly:
Investigations are still underway, but it appears that in addition to the Tubbs fire, PG&E could also be partly responsible for the catastrophic Camp fire which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 88 people earlier this month. The company was considering shutting off power to the affected area of Butte County but chose not to; now, damage to an active transmission tower near the start of the fire is being reviewed as its origin point. When the power did go out as a result of the fire, some residents assumed it was due to the aforementioned planned outage, and were not aware it was due to a fast-moving blaze. The loss of internet, landlines, and television complicated evacuation communications.
The utility meeting on Thursday quickly became a venue for outraged citizens to voice their concerns about PG&E’s safety practices.
“For years and years, starting from the 1999 Pendola fire, PG&E burned 12,000 acres of land and destroyed 76 structures,” Faiq Raza, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America’s San Francisco chapter, told SF Weekly (I am a member of a different DSA chapter). “In 2010, you see the same thing happen with a gas explosion in San Bruno when a 55-year-old pipeline was blown up and eight people were murdered because of negligence. And then again with the 2017 North Bay fires, and now we’re in 2018 and we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.”
Much of the controversy around PG&E is the result of decisions by state politicians to bail out the company for past disasters. After the Northern California fires last year, California State Assembly members approved Senate Bill 901, which passed on some of PG&E’s liability for the fires on to energy consumers. The law was signed by outgoing Governor Jerry Brown. Another bill, proposed by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, would similarly help the utility evade paying for the lawsuits sparked by the fires.
Protesters at the meeting demanded that the state avoid bailing out the utility for financial hardships that may be incurred thanks to the Camp Fire.
“Volunteers are doing more than you are,” said J Redwoods, the co-founder of Mask Oakland, a volunteer group who distributed 85,000 N95 particulate masks as smoke flooded the Bay Area during the fire. “Communities are doing more than you are. You need to act, or you need to get out of the way. I’m not having Paradise residents pay out of their electric bill for the people who destroyed their community.”
Others called for PG&E to be either broken up or taken over as a public utility.
“I think an investor-owned utility is inherently at odds with public safety,” Sasha Perigo said at the meeting. “An independent report issued by this committee in 2012 found that after the San Bruno fire, funds that were intended for safety had been diverted to executive pay and shareholder bonuses.”
A coalition of organizations including Mask Oakland, Local Clean Energy Alliance, East Bay Clean Power Alliance, Communities for a Better Environment, Diablo Rising Tide, and Democratic Socialists of America have started a petition demanding a stop to the bail outs. They plan to continue organizing around the cause.