PG&E and the Dixie Fire Lawsuit
The California utility has been under fire for its recent pollution scandal, which has resulted in blackouts on windy days, higher power bills, and toxic compounds in the air that scientists will likely never fully understand. Erin Brockovich’s work in bringing litigation against PG&E is highlighted in this article. Other topics discussed include PG&E’s insurance policy and plans to de-energize high-voltage lines.
Erin Brockovich’s work in bringing litigation against PG&E
The award-winning environmental activist is now heading to trial in a lawsuit against the utility company she helped bring to light. The movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh, follows her life as she fights a power company that poisoned water in her small California town with chromium. The hexavalent chromium in the water contaminated the community, causing cancer, infertility, and a whole host of other illnesses. She acted as a lawyer for the residents of Hinkley, California, and pleaded their case to the courts.
Since the release of the film, Erin Brockovich has worked on several major environmental lawsuits. She left her firm, Masry & Vititoe, in 2003 to form her firm, Brockovich Research & Consulting. This firm helps people affected by environmental contamination, connecting them with public agencies. Brockovich also acts as a consumer advocate for medical devices, including the permanent contraceptive implant Essure.
PG&E’s settlement with Northstate prosecutors
Earlier this year, PG&E settled a civil lawsuit brought by victims of the devastating Dixie Fire, which destroyed 1,300 buildings and destroyed 963,000 acres. Despite the high cost, the settlement avoided bankruptcy and inordinate delay for victims. Investigators determined that a tree fell on PG&E power lines and ignited the fire, which destroyed nearly 1,000 homes. The incident occurred near the Cresta Dam, about 100 miles north of Sacramento.
Under the terms of the settlement, PG&E will pay $55 million in civil penalties and costs. The company has agreed to fund an independent safety monitor for the entire duration of the five-year civil judgment. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey praised the settlement as an attempt to re-establish the utility’s reputation as a leader in safety and security. While the company may have settled the lawsuit, it will continue to face criminal charges in connection with the fires.
PG&E’s liability insurance
What does this mean for PG&E’s liability insurance? This lawsuit will likely lead to a larger rate increase for the company, which is unable to pay its premiums. However, the insurer will not pursue a separate action against you based on the lawsuit, because the amount they paid toward the same losses is limited. This double recovery is illegal. Therefore, PG&E should be aware of its risk profile before signing a policy with an insurance company.
Last year, PG&E emerged from bankruptcy and assigned its rights to the victims of the Camp Fire and North Bay fires. Fire victims sued the utility and 22 former executives of the utility in April. Their lawsuit seeks to collect as much as $400 million from PG&E’s liability insurance. PG&E maintains that its policy limits fire victims’ recovery from $200 million to $400 million.
PG&E’s plans to de-energize high-voltage lines
The fires caused by the massive Monument Fire have forced the Pacific Gas and Electric Company to shut down its western powerlines. The fire is raging near Big Bar along Hwy 299, east of Cedar Flat, and is now reported to be 17,622 acres and 0% contained. US Forest Service officials say the fire poses a threat to Big Bar, Del Loma, Big Flat, and Burnt Ranch, and four-spot fires have ignited on the Trinity River. While the primary fire remains south of Hwy 299, firefighters are removing the power from the affected areas.
If PG&E owned the grid, California would have massive investments in clean energy infrastructure. The utility would have the ability to access the $21 billion state fund that shields investor-owned utilities from huge fire liabilities. But it would also have to improve its safety culture and meet strict wildfire prevention goals if it wants to maintain the funds in the long run. Failure to do so would expose the company to sanctions or receivership.