PG&E Pleads Guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter for Sparking California’s Deadliest Fire
The announcement comes a little less than a year after an investigation confirmed that power lines owned by the utility sparked the Camp Fire, which burned 153,336 acres, killed 85 people and scorched the town of Paradise.
"We cannot replace all that the fire destroyed, but our hope is that this plea agreement, along with our rebuilding efforts, will help the community move forward from this tragic incident," PG&E Chief Executive Bill Johnson said in a statement reported by Reuters.
The plea is part of a March 17 agreement with the Butte County District Attorney's office. According to the agreement, the county would drop all criminal proceedings against the utility and, in exchange, it would plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of accidentally starting a fire. It would also pay a fine of $3.5 million maximum and $500,000 in legal costs, as well as put $15 million towards water for residents who relied on the Miocene Canal destroyed in the fire.
The announcement also comes three days after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was willing to approve PG&E's plan to emerge from bankruptcy, which it entered in early 2019 as it faced billions in liabilities from the fires. As part of that agreement, it would pay $13.5 billion to fire victims, The New York Times reported.
The plea agreement announced Monday still needs to be approved by the state and bankruptcy courts.
The manslaughter plea might make it easier for fire victims to claim damages from the utility, but many expressed anger at the agreement.
Paradise resident Kirk Trostle, who lost his home to the flames and saw his family dispersed after the fire, told The New York Times he wanted to see charges brought against PG&E officers.
"They decimated my entire town," Mr. Trostle said. "To me, this is just a drop in the bucket for what should be happening to PG&E."
Mindy Spatt of the Utility Reform Network agreed.
"You know, if corporations are people as the Supreme Court has suggested, PG&E would be in jail right now. That is normally the penalty for manslaughter," Spatt told The Los Angeles Times. "I think from the customer end, it kind of feels like PG&E got away with murder."
The fire was sparked when a tower more than 100 years old malfunctioned. The utility had failed to inspect it for nearly 20 years.
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Earth had its second-warmest year on record in 2020, just 0.02 degrees Celsius (0.04°F) behind the record set in 2016, and 0.98 degrees Celsius (1.76°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA reported January 14.
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for 2020, the second-warmest year the globe has seen since record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. Record-high annual temperatures over land and ocean surfaces were measured across parts of Europe, Asia, southern North America, South America, and across parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. No land or ocean areas were record cold for the year. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
Figure 2. Total ocean heat content (OHC) in the top 2000 meters from 1958-2020. Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences
Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperature from average in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W). Sea surface temperature were approximately one degree Celsius below average over the past month, characteristic of moderate La Niña conditions. Tropical Tidbits
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