PG&E Pleads Guilty To 84 Counts Of Involuntary Manslaughter
Calaveras County deputy among the responders catches a quick rest in between helping the Butte County Camp Fire efforts Nov 8 2018
Butte County, CA – The nation’s largest utility admitted to the blood on its hands for causing deadly fires, including one that destroyed a town, by neglecting to properly tend to its equipment.
On Tuesday, outgoing PG&E CEO Bill Johnson traveled from the company’s San Francisco headquarters to a Butte County courthouse and pled guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter that occurred as a result of the November 2018 Camp Fire incident that sparked from an aging electrical grid. The blaze, which all but decimated the entire town of Paradise also forced PG&E to initiate bankruptcy proceedings early last year.
Under its negotiated plea agreement with Butte County DA Mike Ramsey, PG&E also pled guilty to one felony count of unlawfully starting a fire.
As Butte County Superior Court Judge Michael Deems read the names of each of the 84 victims as their photos appeared on a courtroom screen Johnson acknowledged the horrific toll that PG&E’s history of neglect wrought.
“No words from me could ever reduce the magnitude of that devastation or do anything to repair the damage,” Johnson said in a subsequent statement. “I hope the actions taken today bring some measure of peace.” A grand jury indictment summary listing the corporate misconduct is forthcoming.
Reshuffled Board To Choose New CEO
Johnson, who was hired about six months after the Camp Fire, plans to step down as CEO on June 30, the same date that the utility hopes to secure a federal judge’s approval for its plan to emerge from its second bankruptcy case in 16 years. A mostly new board of directors recently announced by PG&E as part of a deal with the State of California will hire his replacement.
The hearing was set up as a way to publicly shame PG&E for past practices that chose to boost investors’ profits over upgrading and maintaining its infrastructure to protect the 16 million people who rely on it for power.
Many of the fire’s victims were elderly or disabled. They took desperate measures to save themselves. More than 20 family members of the victims are expected to make statements in court Wednesday. It is anticipated that Deems will formally sentence PG&E Thursday or Friday though no one will be imprisoned for the company’s crimes.
PG&E has agreed to pay a maximum fine of $3.5 million-plus $500,000 for the cost of the investigation. The deal does not include criminal probation.
Notably, PG&E is on criminal probation until January 2020 for a separate incident involving some of its natural gas lines that in 2010 blew up a neighborhood and killed ten people in San Bruno.
PG&E’s bankruptcy case includes $25.5 billion in settlements to pay for the damages from the Camp Fire and other deadly Northern California blazes caused by its equipment in 2017. There is also $13.5 billion in funds earmarked for wildfire victims.
If its bankruptcy plan is approved, PG&E and other investor-owned utilities that have bought into the state’s wildfire fund may tape it to help pay for wildfire damages. The fire season is shaping up to be busy one due to unusually dry winter weather and a forecast calling for a hot, dry summer with offshore wind events generating more high fire danger days.