If you’re not outraged by PG&E’s bad behavior, you’re not paying attention. The company knew the dangers of its aging, ill-maintained equipment during critical fire conditions, especially as its equipment caused 17 wildfires in 2017. Yet on Nov. 8, 2018, the utility failed to shut off power in eastern Butte County despite warning customers for three days.
One of its responses was to issue a red herring press release claiming to have found bullet-riddled equipment near the point of origin of the Camp Fire. Shortly thereafter, the company gave $2.5 million in severance to its CEO/president.
Months later, once the utility was found responsible, it declared bankruptcy to screw the fire survivors. PG&E indicated that fire damage claims could reach $30 billion, yet it proposed to set aside only $17.9 billion for fire claims. It’s just agreed to pay $11 billion to the insurance companies, leaving very little for fire survivors.
I worked for a bankrupt school district and we all took significant pay and benefit decreases. However, PG&E’s bankruptcy proposed $235 million in employee bonuses, $10.9 million in executive bonuses, as well as increases in salary for board members and increasing shareholder returns.
PG&E has for decades increased rates faster than inflation. But where has this money gone, as it wasn’t spent on maintenance? The answer: executive bonuses and incentives, and stockholder dividends, despite previous “bad behavior,” including infrastructure-sparked wildfires and the San Bruno gas line explosion that killed eight people.
Even with felony convictions, PG&E has operated with impunity and lack of accountability. Maybe the $10 million the company spent lobbying state officials last year explains that.
Corporate greed is killing Americans—just follow the news on opiate deaths, the pharmaceutical industry and the Purdue bankruptcy. Our bankruptcy court needs to hold PG&E financially responsible. The California Public Utilities Commission and politicians should deny the requests to pass on the costs to the company’s customers and instead restructure this monopoly. And our judicial system, including Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, needs to hold the utility criminally responsible for the damage and deaths it caused.