PG&E Announces $13.5 Billion California Wildfire Victims Settlement
“PG&E pumped out $4.5 billion in dividends and let the tree budget wither.”
On Friday, California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced it had reached a $13.5 billion settlement with victims of several California wildfires that killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses across the state from 2016-2018.
“From the beginning of the Chapter 11 process, getting wildfire victims fairly compensated, especially the individuals, has been our primary goal. We want to help our customers, our neighbors and our friends in those impacted areas recover and rebuild after these tragic wildfires,” said CEO and President of PG&E Corporation Bill Johnson in a statement.
As Leighanna Shirey for Citizen Truth previously reported, in June of 2018, Cal Fire, California’s fire agency, established that PG&E equipment caused 17 of the wildfires that spread across Northern California in 2017. Cal Fire referred its findings for 12 of those fires to various county District Attorneys’ offices, citing possible state law violations.
Investigators blamed trees falling on power lines for the cause of some of California’s fires and blamed PG&E for failing to properly trim trees in close proximity to powerlines.
“PG&E pumped out $4.5 billion in dividends and let the tree budget wither,” Northern California District Judge William Alsup said last April.
Ultimately investigators found insufficient evidence to charge PG&E with criminal responsibility, stating they failed to find beyond a reasonable doubt “that PG&E acted with a reckless disregard for human life in causing the fires, the standard necessary to sustain criminal charges.”
However, PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January of 2019 claiming they faced potential liabilities of $30 billion. A report by government watchdog agency MapLight revealed that since filing for bankruptcy PG&E has continued to spend money on lobbying federal candidates.
“Federal Election Commission records show the utility gave $75,500 to out-of-state senators and representatives between January and Sept. 30; the remaining $72,500 went to California lawmakers,” MapLight wrote.
The $13.5 billion victims settlement pertains to the Camp Fire in 2018; the Tubbs Fire in 2017; the Butte Fire in 2015; and the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland in 2016.
The fund will go to victims who lost loved ones and/or property, as well as government agencies and attorneys that incurred expenses fighting the multiple fires and pursuing claims against PG&E. The settlement must still be approved by a U.S. bankruptcy court and gives victims until the end of this year to file claims.