Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

PG&E Pleads Guilty to 84 Counts of Manslaughter in Camp Fire

Business

T

Remnants of a home in Paradise, California on Dec. 18, 2018, after the November Camp Fire. Cal OES

A faulty transmission line from California's largest utility PG&E started the Camp Fire in 2018 that ripped through California and destroyed the town of Paradise. For that, the company's CEO Bill Johnson had to stand in front of a judge on Tuesday and say the word "guilty" as 85 counts were read out: 84 for involuntary manslaughter, and one for unlawfully starting a fire, according to The New York Times.


"I'm here today on behalf of the 23,000 men and women of PG&E to take responsibility for the fire that killed these people," Johnson told Judge Michael R. Deems of Butte County Superior Court, while families of the victims watched live on YouTube, as The New York Times reported. "No words from me can ever reduce the magnitude of that devastation."

As NPR reported, Johnson stood with his hands clasped and gently rocked back and forth for duration of the 28 minutes that the judge read out the names of the dead, and Johnson said, "Guilty your honor," after each one.

"Our equipment started that fire," Johnson admitted, after waiving the company's right to appeal the case, according to NPR.

"I wish there was some way to take back what happened, or to take away the impact, the pain that these people have suffered," Johnson said, according to NBC News. "But I know that can't be done."

The guilty plea followed a scathing report presented to a grand jury that was released Tuesday. The report found that the utility giant willfully ignored warnings about its aging power lines and shoddy maintenance repeatedly. It also did not follow state regulations. The report said the company showed "a callous disregard" for life and property, according to court documents, as NPR reported.

That led to the fire that ignited on Nov. 8, 2018. It directly killed 84 people, leveled the town of Paradise, and wiped out large parts of the nearby towns Concow, Magalia and other areas of Butte county, according to NBC News.

For its misdeeds that led to the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history that claimed more than 18,800 structures, including 13,696 single-family homes and 528 businesses, the company will have to pay $3.5 million. It will also have to pay $500,000 for the cost of the investigation, as NBC News reported.

Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey, who was dismayed that the penalty for 84 counts of manslaughter included no jail time and a relatively light fine, spearheaded the investigation. No company employees or executives are expected to face prison time.

"This is the first time that PG&E, or any major utility, has been charged with homicide as result of a reckless fire," Ramsey noted in a press conference following the string of guilty pleas.

"We treat corporations as persons but we don't send corporations to jail," Ramsey added, as NPR reported. "The best the state could do is to fine the company as a person. There's an obvious disconnect there."

He noted that the state's hands were tied since they were only allowed to ask for $10,000 per death.

A criminal conviction might undo some companies, like it did to consulting firm Arthur Andersen after it was found guilty in 2002 of obstructing justice. However, PG&E is a state monopoly, leaving customers with no other place to turn for their electricity needs, according to The New York Times.

"They have put profits over people year after year and the state of California just keeps letting it happen," said Tommy Wehe, who lost his mother when she was burned by the fire while trying to flee in her truck, according to The New York Times. "The company's acceptance of guilt is inconsequential if the appropriate safety measures are not enacted to prevent the future loss of life and property."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Activists of Greenpeace and Fridays For Future demonstrate on a canal in front of the cooling tower of the coal-fired power plant Datteln 4 of power supplier Uniper in Datteln, western Germany, on May 20. INA FASSBENDER / AFP / Getty Images

The Bundestag and Bundesrat — Germany's lower and upper houses of parliament — passed legislation on Friday that would phase out coal use in the country in less than two decades as part of a road map to reduce carbon emissions.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Tara Lohan

Would you like to take a crack at solving climate change? Or at least creating a road map of how we could do it?

Read More Show Less
Climate campaigners and Indigenous peoples across Canada have spent the past several years protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline. Mark Klotz / Flickr / cc

By Elana Sulakshana

Rainforest Action Network recently uncovered a document that lists the 11 companies that are currently insuring the controversial Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline in Canada. These global insurance giants are providing more than USD$500 million in coverage for the massive risks of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and they're also lined up to cover the expansion project.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Leah Campbell

After several months of stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many households are beginning to experience family burnout from spending so much time together.

Read More Show Less
Food Tank

By Danielle Nierenberg and Alonso Diaz

With record high unemployment, a reeling global economy, and concerns of food shortages, the world as we know it is changing. But even as these shifts expose inequities in the health and food systems, many experts hope that the current moment offers an opportunity to build a new and more sustainable food system.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Brian J. Love and Julie Rieland

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the U.S. recycling industry. Waste sources, quantities and destinations are all in flux, and shutdowns have devastated an industry that was already struggling.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Pixabay

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

Unhealthy foods play a primary role in many people gaining weight and developing chronic health conditions, more now than ever before.

Read More Show Less