PG&E-Friendly Wildfire Plan is Labeled Unconstitutional: Fire Victims

July 30, 2018

Mercury News
By George Avalos

A PG&E wildfire liability plan crafted by Gov. Jerry Brown that is expected to benefit PG&E was derided by fire victims on Monday as unconstitutional and illegal — even though PG&E’s top boss calls it an insufficient plan that doesn’t go far enough to benefit utility behemoths.

Gov. Brown on July 24 proposed a plan that could dramatically ease the potential wildfire-related financial burdens on large utilities such as PG&E by potentially shoveling more costs onto the shoulders of utility ratepayers and California homeowners.

In the wake of last October’s deadly infernos that torched the North Bay Wine Country and nearby regions, the fire victims’ opposition to the governor’s plan was a fresh indicator that a full-scale battle looms in the waning weeks of the state legislative session over the nature and the extent of the future liability for PG&E and other big power companies when their equipment is involved in wildfires.

“The governor’s wildfire proposal strips victims of their guaranteed right to compensation,” according to a prepared release on Monday by the coalition of wildfire victims, operating under the name Up From the Ashes.

The coalition noted the state Constitution allows private property to be taken by an investor-owned utility for a public use only after the owner has been compensated for the loss of, or damage to, the property.

The governor’s plan, however, no longer requires compensation, the wildfire victims say, because the proposal’s language allows courts to use discretion regarding “whether the utility acted reasonably.” The wildfire victims noted “reasonable” has a wide-ranging interpretation.