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California's Biggest Utility Plans Bankruptcy Filing After Wildfires
California's largest utility is preparing to declare bankruptcy after a string of wildfires in 2017 and 2018 left it with $30 billion or more in potential liabilities. The announcement comes a day after CEO Geisha Williams stepped down.
"PG&E currently plans to file for Chapter 11 on or about January 29, 2019," the company announced Monday. "We do not expect any impact to natural gas or electric service for our customers as a result of the Chapter 11 process."
A report from the Wall Street Journal on Sunday determined that PG&E power lines and other equipment started more than 1,500 fires in recent years—or about one fire a day. Several of these fires grew into major and deadly infernos exacerbated by the region's unrelenting drought.
State officials determined that PG&E's electrical equipment was responsible for at least 18 of 21 significant fires in 2017 as well as fires in 2018, The New York Times noted.
Some of those fires were sparked by its power lines falling onto trees, which critics say is a result of PG&E not properly maintaining trees and limbs around the lines.
The energy giant is facing multiple lawsuits from wildfire victims and is being investigated for its potential role in starting the record-breaking Camp Fire in Northern California that killed 86 people, burned thousands of buildings and destroyed the town of Paradise.
The utility's safety record has been under fire ever since it was found guilty for its role in the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, California.
PG&E provides natural gas and electric service to approximately 16 million people in northern and central California.
UC Berkeley energy economist Severin Borenstein told The San Francisco Chronicle that the immediate impact on its customers would be "almost negligible." Lynn LoPucki, a UCLA law professor, added that filing for Chapter 11 does not necessarily mean that customers' bills will increase.
However, one of the biggest losers could be the environment, as PG&E made commitments to help California reach its ambitious clean energy goals, including investments in lower-emission vehicles, renewables, energy efficiency and infrastructure.
A bankruptcy judge could advise PG&E to curtail such investments, Borenstein explained to The Chronicle.
"I could very well see the judge saying, 'You're gonna have to let somebody else lead the fight against climate change; you gotta focus on staying financially viable,'" he said.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.