On Tuesday, California’s largest utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter related to the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California. According to the BBC, in a Superior Court in California’s Butte County, Judge Michael Deems read all 84 victims’ names while PG&E chief executive Bill Johnson watched each victim’s image projected on a screen and vocally pleaded guilty to each count. Johnson will be “stepping down” at the end of the month. Johnson also pleaded guilty, on behalf of the utility giant, to the one count of unlawfully causing the fire. He addressed the court and apologized to the families of the deceased, saying, “No words from me can ever reduce the magnitude of that devastation. We know we cannot replace all that the fire destroyed.”
The Wall Street Journal reports the company has agreed to pay the “statutory maximum penalty of $3.48 million.” Sentencing is expected later in the week. This plea, along with liability claim settlements totaling $25.5 billion, are meant to help the company “exit bankruptcy later this year.”
The 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the entire town of Paradise began after a worn piece of metal broke off from a transmission tower and ignited brush below it. Prosecutors and investigators were able to very easily show that thorough and reasonably frequent maintenance of the tower would have stopped this from happening. It also was very clear that PG&E, in cutting corners, had “decreased the frequency and thoroughness of transmission-line inspections over several decades.”
This is not the end of the issues PG&E or Californians will face in the coming months and years. The monopoly utility company has been terrible about maintaining its grid for decades now, and California’s government has been equally terrible about holding them to full account. You can read about Daily Kos community member Besame’s experience, and Smileycreek’s recounting of living in the area ravished by the fire.
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