Utility Companies Attempt to Blame Global Warming for California’s Extensive Wildfire Damages
The process of rebuilding the California regions affected by the deadly 2017 wildfires is still ongoing. Estimates for total insurance claims come in the range of $10 to 15 billion. In addition, state agencies spent approximately $1.8 billion on firefighting efforts, CBS News reported. The financial toll of the natural disaster is massive and because of this fact, investigators are still working hard to establish the initial cause of the natural disaster.
Utility companies like PG&E and Edison International have faced a serious backlash in connection to the October 2017 wildfires. Lawsuits have been launched, accusing the companies of negligence and improper infrastructural maintenance that contributed to the fires.
In California, property owners can collect damages from negligent utility companies. The utility companies, however, are attempting to shift the blame.
Blame It on Global Warming
Climate change has been cited several times as the reason behind the deadly 2017 California wildfires. Edison and PG&E’s chief executive officers have come out to say that global warming is the problem, rather than the companies’ infrastructural issues.
Bloomberg reports that Edison CEO Pedro Pizarro said both the frequency and the severity of California wildfires have increased because of climate change over the past few years. This is a part of an attempt by the two utility giants to fight the California law known as inverse condemnation. This law states that utility companies can be held liable for damages, even if safety rules or protocols have been followed. For this purpose, investigators must to prove that their equipment contributed to the wildfires.
Both PG&E and Edison representatives confirmed in early 2018 that they’re pushing for legislative changes to limit the scope of the inverse condemnation legislation.
The Investigation Is Ongoing
California officials have not yet come up with a concrete statement about the cause of the 2017 wildfires.
While the investigation is ongoing, the utility companies have come up with additional possibilities for addressing California’s wildfire problems ahead of the 2018 season. In March 2018, PG&E announced the launch of a comprehensive community wildfire safety program to work with first responders and community organizations to reduce potential wildfire threats.
At the same time, a new bill is advancing in California’s legislature. The aim of the bill is to shield utility companies that follow safety protocols from eventual property damage lawsuits in the event of a natural disaster. The new bill will not be retroactive and the utility giants will remain vulnerable to civil lawsuits from the 2017 wildfires.
As a result, even if the new law is enacted, if their negligence is establishes, PG&E as well as Edison could be held responsible for the 2017 wildfire damages.
According to preliminary estimates, the largest of the 2017 fires could cost PG&E more than $15 billion in claims. Evidence of their negligence in this natural disaster is mounting.
In January, new reports were released that found PG&E equipment was near the ignition points of the Sonoma and Napa wildfires. California officials stated that the exact cause of the fire remains inconclusive.
In February 2018, two smaller California wildfires were linked to PG&E equipment. The Santa Rosa Fire Department reported that the two fires beginning on October 8 and 9, 2017, were likely the result of sparks forming from arcs on electrical lines. In one of the cases, the electrical lines continued arcing even after firefighters’ arrival.
As of March and April 2018, the official cause of the largest and deadliest wildfires had not been officially announced, despite the mounting evidence. While Cal Fire is yet to issue a statement, Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties have filed a lawsuit against PG&E, claiming that the company’s power lines are the main cause of the October 2017 wildfires.
PG&E spokesperson Keith Stephens has refused to speculate on the wildfires’ causes nor has the company taken any responsibility for its possible role in the natural disaster. Cal Fire has not provided a deadline for the completion of its investigative work, but the timeline is likely to extend many more months.
- May 17, 2018