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Governor Brown Signs Major Wildfire Bill

Sacramento, CA – Governor Jerry Brown has signed new sweeping wildfire legislation that allows utilities to bill their customers to pay for legal settlements from the devastating 2017 wildfires.

In announcing his signing of SB 901 today, Brown remarked the bill will strengthen California’s ability to prevent and recover from catastrophic wildfires by boosting the state’s forest management activities, updating requirements for the maintenance and operation of utility infrastructure to reflect changing climate conditions, and protecting ratepayers and utility workers.

“Wildfires in California aren’t going away, and we have to do everything possible to prevent them. This bill is complex and requires investment – but it’s absolutely necessary,” said Governor Brown.

As reported here earlier this month, the assembly passed the bill that will spend more money on forest thinning projects and also help utilities cover the costs of wildfires. Brown revealed that a major reason for signing the measure was to prevent Pacific Gas & Electric Co. from going bankrupt due to billions of dollars in liability if investigators determine its equipment caused the fire in Santa Rosa. Critics label the legislation as a government handout for PG&E. Supporters note that for future fires, a commission can consider a variety of factors to decide if utilities can pass costs on to consumers.

The governor’s office provided this list of SB 901 provisions:

  • Requiring utilities to implement comprehensive fire prevention plans, including improvements to utility infrastructure.
  • Expediting small landowner incentives and projects to reduce excess fuel and remove dead and dying trees and chaparral.
  • Facilitating access to property to carry out projects to improve overall forest health and resistance to wildfires.
  • Adding a rigorous standard for the California Public Utilities Commission to oversee the allocation of utility wildfire costs and expenses, including consideration of climate change impacts.
  • Authorizing a financing mechanism so utilities can spread out wildfire costs to minimize impacts to ratepayers.
  • Adding worker protections and prohibiting utilities from charging their customers for executive compensation.

Click here to view SB 901.