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Court hopes to reduce wildfire risks with utility punishment

Since 2018 had some of the most destructive wildfires in California history, the state has been trying to find out how liable certain utilities were during the chaos. Several of these fires were caused by faulty equipment and poor maintenance by utilities, and it didn’t take long to narrow down some of the prime suspects.

Officials found that the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) were involved with the Camp Fire. This didn’t come as a surprise to many Californians. The state has linked this utility to several of the most devastating wildfires in the last decade such as the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion and the 2015 Butte Fire. Recently, a U.S. judge ordered new probation terms for PG&E for their involvement in the Camp Fire. These penalties have surprised many with their heavy focus on preventing future disasters.

Tearing down trees

The new criminal probation terms proposed by the judge now requires PG&E to remove around 375,000 dead or dying trees in areas that are at high risk of wildfires. Most of these are in places where PG&E and other utilities have older power lines that are said to have been a primary factor in causing some of 2018’s wildfires. The judge is still considering if the company needs to shut down their power lines during windy weather.

PG&E did not argue against these new terms. This was a better deal to them then the judge saying that they would pay up to $150 billion back in January. However, they cannot resume dividends or pay shareholders until they full comply with the new terms.

Will it pay off?

Many Californians are skeptical whether this new deal will truly decrease wildfires in the long run. Some of this skepticism stems from PG&E’s controversial history on power line maintenance. A recent article by The New York Times highlights several instances where the company acknowledged outdated or broken power lines and towers, but refused to update them or only took temporary safety measures after getting blamed for wildfires in the past.

While it is different this time because these probation terms are under the supervision of a U.S. judge, only time will tell how effective these methods are. With how often utility companies are involved with destructive wildfires in California, it is important to know what legal options are available if you lose your house in one of these disasters.

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