These kittens, burned in a wildfire, are recovering under the care of a local SPCA. Others were not so “lucky.” (Warning: very graphic images). And in California, a Federal Court has found that one of the leading cause of wildfires — and its resulting destruction of both animal habitat and animal life — is PG&E’s shoddy equipment.

“Cal Fire has determined that PG&E caused 18 wildfires in 2017, 12 of which Cal Fire referred for possible criminal prosecution.” The Court also noted that “Cal Fire is still investigating several other recent wildfires, including the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, which killed 86 people and which PG&E may be liable for as well…” And the Wall Street Journal blames it for “at least 1,500 California fires”: “PG&E equipment started more than one fire a day in California on average in recent years.”

PG&E could have prevented the fires by upgrading their equipment. While claiming it was too expensive, they were sitting on $1 billion in credit reserves to do so. They also had the money to pay their CEO over $10 million in compensation, the Board President over $3.5 million, and various Vice Presidents over $1 million each. They had the money to spend “lobbying state legislators for relief from wildfire liability.” And now that the CEO has jumped ship, they had the money to pay her a $2.5 million severance package, while leaving taxpayers to foot the billion dollar bill for her malfeasance.

In addition to refusing to upgrade that equipment, “The California Public Utilities Commission [CPUC] accused Pacific Gas & Electric Company [PG&E] of falsifying safety documentation for years around gas pipelines, even as the utility reckoned with the consequences of a deadly Bay Area gas explosion.”

The CPUC finding notes that rather than tighten safety standards “immediately following the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion and fire that resulted in eight fatalities, numerous injuries and damage to property,” PG&E ignored them.

And that’s not all. PG&E is also one of the leading killers of trees in California.  In 2016, PG&E chopped down or pruned over “1.2 million trees under the annual program to prevent contact with power lines.” Why? It refuses to put power lines underground because it is cheaper to destroy trees, destroy habitat, worsen climate change, undermine property values, and negatively impact community character. Exposed power lines are also a fire risk.  Unfortunately, rather than order it to upgrade equipment, the Federal Court overseeing the trial ordered PG&E to cut down more trees:

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, branches that might bend in high wind and hit power lines, poles or equipment, and branches that could break off in high wind and fall onto power lines, poles or equipment…

After PG&E tagged trees throughout the Oakland hills for destruction, Save East Bay Hills (a group I am affiliated with) wrote the CPUC demanding that it order PG&E instead to:

  • Put wires underground;
  • Install High Impedance Arc Fault Circuit Interruption Gear (lightning fast circuit breaker technology that can cut the power to a broken electric line before it hits the ground eliminating any danger associated with a downed line, such as fire or electrocution);
  • Replace small gauge and/or uninsulated distribution and power pole wire with strong insulated wire; and,
  • Replace wooden power poles with metal power poles that are capable of supporting stronger, heavier wire and the additional communication equipment that would also eliminate arcing of downed wires.

The CPUC ignored the request.

Now, a Federal Court is giving PG&E the political cover to continue decimating trees and animal habitat. And as grasses will proliferate wherever moisture-rich, shade-giving, fire-abating trees are cut down by PG&E, and grasses are highly flammable (at any given time, virtually every wildfire in California is a grass fire), this destruction will lead to more, not fewer, fires, further degrading the environment, and continuing to imperil people and animals.

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