Sacramento CA – Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan passed her Wildfire Prevention and Utility Accountability legislative package off the Assembly floor last week.
AB 2083 prohibits the use of ratepayer funds in criminal or civil settlement agreements where a utility has been deemed negligent in starting a fire. Currently, when an investor owned utility (IOU) reaches a pre-trial settlement with the State, county, or city, the funds can be drawn from ratepayers, making Californians pay for a company’s negligence.
AB 2070 increases safety and transparency by requiring utility companies to notify local fire districts before conducting high-risk “hot work.” Notification ensures that local fire districts are prepared to respond quickly to potential fires, avoiding needless destruction.
“In the last five years California suffered an unprecedented number of wildfires due to utility negligence.” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan. “We can’t continue to let these companies continue get away with insufficient safety practices and manipulative settlements that leave Californians on the hook.”
AB 2083 speaks directly to a loophole in utility accountability for sparking fires. In April of this year, the district attorneys of the six counties devastated by the Dixie Fire reached a settlement with PG&E over the company’s responsibility for sparking the blaze. As part of this settlement, PG&E agreed to expedite direct payments for home loss, increased performance commitments, and fiscal penalties. If PG&E had been convicted for starting the wildfires, all penalties would be paid back from profits. However, since the settlement was main pre-trial, it was eligible to be paid for by ratepayers. Because of the loophole, the company faced no meaningful accountability for the negligence that destroyed 600 homes.
Preventing fires means holding perpetrators accountable, and being prepared up-front to prevent a spark from igniting. AB 2070 ensures critical information is available to address risks as they happen. When fire districts know in advance that there is risky work being conducted in their area, they can be prepared by having fire personnel poised and ready. Without this information from utilities, districts can be caught off guard and lose precious moments to stop the flames.
“After arriving on scene it takes time for the first two units to make sense of the chaotic environment” said Moraga-Orinda Fire Chief Dave Winnacker. “The more that is known about the scene prior to arrival on a scene the less time it takes to take the appropriate course of action.”
AB 2070 and AB 2083 are both headed to the State Senate for consideration.