Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

PG&E Pleads Guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter for Sparking California’s Deadliest Fire

Climate
PG&E Pleads Guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter for Sparking California’s Deadliest Fire
A neighborhood in Paradise, California destroyed by the Camp Fire. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter for sparking the state's deadliest wildfire, the company announced Monday.


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.

While PG&E is to blame for the the immediate spark, the fire was also partly fueled by hot, dry conditions made more likely by the climate crisis.

Oil spills, such as the one in Mauritius in August 2020, could soon be among the ecological crimes considered ecocide. - / AFP / Getty Images

By Kenny Stancil

An expert panel of top international and environmental lawyers have begun working this month on a legal definition of "ecocide" with the goal of making mass ecological damage an enforceable international crime on par with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Polar bears are seen in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Alan D. Wilson / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

After ongoing pressure from environmental groups and Indigenous communities, Bank of America has said it will not finance any oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, making it the last major U.S. financial institution to do so.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Map shows tracks and strength of Atlantic tropical cyclones in 2020. Blues are tropical depressions and tropical storms; yellow through red show hurricanes, darker shades meaning stronger ones. Master0Garfield / Wikimedia Commons

By Astrid Caldas

As we reach the official end of hurricane season, 2020 will be one for the record books. Looking back at these long, surprising, sometimes downright crazy past six months (seven if you count when the first named storms actually started forming), there are many noteworthy statistics and patterns that drive home the significance of this hurricane season, and the ways climate change may have contributed to it.

Read More Show Less
Protesters shouting slogans on megaphones during the climate strike on September 25 in Lisbon, Portugal. Hugo Amaral / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Dana Drugmand

An unprecedented climate lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youths is to be fast-tracked at Europe's highest court, it was announced today.

The European Court of Human Rights said the case, which accuses 33 European nations of violating the applicants' right to life by disregarding the climate emergency, would be granted priority status due to the "importance and urgency of the issues raised."

Read More Show Less
A child plays with a planet Earth ball during the Extinction Rebellion Strike in London on Apr. 18, 2019. Brais G. Rouco / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

Will concern over the climate crisis stop people from having children?

Read More Show Less