Soapbox

Residents and victims will come first in wildfire plan, not utilities

FILE - In this July 1, 2018 file photo flames rise around an outbuilding as a wildfire burns in Guinda, Calif. Authorities said Wednesday, July 11 that an improperly installed electric livestock fence sparked what is known as the County fire that has burned for more than a week and destroyed 20 structures in Northern California. Cal Fire says the blaze in Yolo and Napa counties is 86 percent contained after charring 141 square miles (363 square kilometers) of dry brush. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
FILE - In this July 1, 2018 file photo flames rise around an outbuilding as a wildfire burns in Guinda, Calif. Authorities said Wednesday, July 11 that an improperly installed electric livestock fence sparked what is known as the County fire that has burned for more than a week and destroyed 20 structures in Northern California. Cal Fire says the blaze in Yolo and Napa counties is 86 percent contained after charring 141 square miles (363 square kilometers) of dry brush. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File) AP

We all agree something must be done to address the alarming rise in wildfires. That is why Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders are convening a Senate-Assembly conference committee to come up with a plan. The first hearing is Wednesday in Sacramento.

 
Opinion

As co-chairman of the committee, I want to make my priorities crystal clear. First and foremost, we must fight for those devastated in the 2017 fires and to prevent utilities from sparking future wildfires and claiming new victims.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. wants to change the state’s liability laws, but it has violated our trust and it deserves to be held accountable.

Second, we must prevent ratepayers and taxpayers from bearing undue costs, period. I have no interest in helping out PG&E or any utility; our focus must be on protecting communities.

How we achieve our goals of creating a fire-safe state and guarding the best interests ratepayers will be decided through an open and transparent process. We will emerge with a thoughtful policy, which will help harden the electric grid and save lives.

What is clear is that business as usual is unacceptable and must be stopped. Utilities and regulators need to step up and ensure they’re complying with safety requirements before disaster strikes. Any reform must ensure utilities and regulators meet their responsibilities.

Above all, I will have the well-being of my constituents and all Californians in mind. This issue is personal for me; during the wine country fire last October, I was forced to evacuate with my family. It has been heartbreaking to see the losses suffered by friends and neighbors. This year, fires have already consumed more than 90,000 acres in my district.

If we don’t take a proactive approach to reform current practices, families across our state will remain vulnerable.

We can’t go back in time to change last October’s tragedy or any other. But we cannot forget about the victims. As a state we must support them, learn from our past mistakes and ensure we work to prevent future wildfires.

Bill Dodd, D-Napa, represents the 3rd state Senate District and is co-chairman of the legislative conference committee on wildfire preparedness and response. He can be contacted at senator.dodd@sen.ca.gov.

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