Pacific Gas & Electric on Monday agreed to pay a $ 55 million fine and costs to settle civil cases filed by prosecutors in connection with forest fires in six states in Northern California.
The deal allows PG&E to avoid prosecution for causing last year’s Dixie fire – the second-largest fire in California history and the Kincade fire in 2019. The agreement includes tens of millions of dollars in payments to local organizations, schools and government agencies. and it will fund independent security monitoring for a five-year civil decision period.
Prosecutors said they have filed a civil lawsuit against PG&E to get more benefits than criminal prosecution would allow for the victims. The maximum criminal fine for the Dixie fire, which burned 963,000 acres in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta and Tehama and destroyed more than 1,300 buildings, was $ 329,417.
Butte County District Attorney Michael L. Ramsey said, “This settlement prevents bankruptcy and excessive delays for Dixie firefighters and tenants, especially those without insurance.”
Investigators determined that a tree was in contact with PG&E’s power lines near the Cresta Dam, about 100 miles north of Sacramento.
The Kincade fire burned about 78,000 acres in Sonoma County, injuring four people and destroying 374 buildings. In December, state regulators fined PG&E $ 125 million for the fire.
“Although the criminal charges have been dropped, the level of punishment and oversight provided by this decision is higher than can be achieved against a corporation in a criminal court,” said Jill Ravitch, district attorney for Sonoma County, where the Kincade fire broke out.
Ms Ravic said the decision to reach an agreement also resulted in state legislators failing to pass laws to increase penalties for corrupt companies. He added that state Attorney General Rob Bonta had refused to file any legal action against PG&E.
Mr Bonta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
PG&E said it was working to increase its accountability and transparency to the public and that this would help improve the solution.
Patricia K. Poppe, CEO of PG&E Corporation, said: “We are committed to doing our part and look forward to a long-term partnership with these communities to fix and secure it.”
The Zogg fire, which killed four people in the fall of 2020, burned more than 56,000 acres and destroyed 204 buildings in Shasta County, is not included in the settlement. In this case, PG&E faces serious crimes and criminal charges, including premeditated murder.
Federal and state prosecutors have previously pleaded guilty to PG&E in connection with gas pipeline explosions and forest fires. PG&E’s crimes include 84 involuntary homicides in 2018 as a result of a campfire that destroyed the city of Paradise.
Camp fires and several other forest fires in 2015 prompted PG&E to avoid bankruptcy after the company raised $ 30 billion in forest fires. The utility went bankrupt in July 2020.
The utility has offered to spend billions of dollars on underground power lines to prevent its equipment from catching fire.