The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

California’s Big Utility Bailout

Sep 17, 2018

On August 31, in the very last hours of its two-year term, the California legislature gave the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), a huge gift, probably worth billions of dollars, to be paid for by PG&E customers!

Earlier this year, CalFire, the state’s fire-fighting agency, found that PG&E power lines had caused 16 wildfires last October, which destroyed thousands of homes and killed 18 people. In 11 of these cases, CalFire found PG&E in violation of state safety regulations.

Now PG&E is facing billions of dollars in liability in more than 200 lawsuits, filed by people who lost their homes and loved ones in the fires. And that number may well increase, as Cal Fire has not yet released its report on the Tubbs fire, the most destructive, and deadly, of the October 2017 fires.

So politicians rushed to the rescue of PG&E – encouraged, no doubt, by the millions of dollars PG&E and other utility companies have been spending for “lobbying” in Sacramento.

According to the bill they passed, SB 901, if courts order PG&E to pay damages exceeding a certain amount (to be determined by the California Public Utilities Commission), then PG&E customers will be made to foot the bill through rate hikes – and not just this time but in the future also, that is, every time PG&E is found to have caused a fire and faces liabilities!

These corporate stooges added some icing on PG&E’s cake, too. They handed PG&E and other utilities an extra gift of one billion dollars over five years for clearing vegetation around power lines, even though that is the legal responsibility of the utilities which ratepayers are already paying for in their bills. And the bill is also easing some of the state’s fire safety standards, including how much vegetation utility companies have to clear!

The vote was not even close – 49 to 14 in the Assembly and 29 to 4 in the Senate, which are both dominated by the Democrats. And Gov. Jerry Brown, also a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill, given his past words in favor of such “help” for the utilities. Once again, these politicians have proven that they are nothing but bought servants of big corporations.