“It’s part of the state’s DNA,” Gov. Gavin Newsom talks climate change and wildfire risk
Facing intense criticism over the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, PG&E on Wednesday offered to create a $105 million fund to help fire survivors with living expenses.
The proposal requires approval in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, citing the crushing weight of $30 billion in estimated liabilities from the fires.
The fund would “provide some relief to the people who lost their homes and are currently in need of temporary housing or have other urgent needs,” the utility said in a court filing. The $105 million “wildfire assistance program” would be administered by an independent third party to be chosen in consultation with lawyers for PG&E’s creditors, the filing said.
PG&E equipment has been blamed by state investigators for at least a dozen of the October 2017 fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, and the utility has said it believes its equipment will be held responsible for November’s Camp Fire in Butte County.
The Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed most of the town of Paradise, making it the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of people have been displaced.
The $105 million would go for living expenses, not resolving liability claims. In a statement accompanying the court filing, the company said it’s committed to resolving those claims “fairly and expeditiously” as part of the bankruptcy process.
Payment of wildfire liabilities has become a thorny problem for regulators and lawmakers as they wrestle with the implications of PG&E’s bankruptcy. Another complicating factor is PG&E’s enormous unpopularity. When the company asked regulators for a hefty rate hike last month – to attract investment capital at a time when investors are gunshy because of increasing fire risks – Newsom’s spokesman accused the company of trying to fatten shareholder profits.