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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Politicians have turned on PG&E and the power utility is drawing attention

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State prosecutors have charged California-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. with felony fraud after the utility company allegedly lied about the condition of transmission lines that caused at least 15 wildfires in Northern California. The criminal charges arise from the Northern California wildfires of 2018, which, by all accounts, was a disaster of devastating proportions, and the crimes go far beyond a faulty power line.

PG&E is facing public outrage and fines that will likely number in the billions, and they’re drawing criticism from a group that counts some of the strongest political opponents in the state: those members of Congress who represent San Francisco and northern California who have pointed out to the company and the state to their own roles in facilitating the rampant greenhouse gas emissions that led to this catastrophe, and policies that have made the utility in effect a direct contributor to climate change.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from the district that’s experiencing some of the worst damage, emphasized in a statement that he believes that failure of PG&E and the state of California is to blame for the wildfires. “We are reminded every time one of these devastating fires takes place why our state must not simply pass the buck to Washington, D.C.,” he said in a statement, noting that he called for a full review of all present policies from the state, federal government, and utilities.

Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents the East Bay area of Northern California, is calling for a special session, saying, “as a nation, we need to make improvements to our policies and regulatory practices that protect our communities and our environment, and we need to do it immediately.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, who also represents parts of Northern California, called for California to join in an effort led by the U.S. Department of Justice and the New York State Attorney General to require financial disclosure by utilities that use older power lines to conduct rapid response inspections.

Swalwell has long been a frequent critic of Pacific Gas & Electric. In the past, he compared the company to the villains in “Kung Fu Panda,” and urged the state to move away from the “little dude” model of utility service providers, something he’s talked about doing since he was first elected.

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