PG&E Pleads Guilty to 84 Counts of Manslaughter in Camp Fire
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."
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By Brett Wilkins
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the meatpacking industry worked together to downplay and disregard risks to worker health during the Covid-19 pandemic, as shown in documents published Monday by Public Citizen and American Oversight.
<div id="13077" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="11b9fe5ff48ebc437353df6df9c2c892"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1305915938148147205" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Just a week before the Trump administration issued an executive order aimed at keeping meat packing plants open, th… https://t.co/DkbXgPm4YR</div> — ProPublica (@ProPublica)<a href="https://twitter.com/propublica/statuses/1305915938148147205">1600189597.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="36e4c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e7c8048c2755109629a3b3072fcb3261"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1304424041814593539" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Meatpacking union @UFCW, which reps workers at this plant (four of whom died), slams OSHA for the small $13k fine a… https://t.co/tnhfKd89ab</div> — Dave Jamieson (@Dave Jamieson)<a href="https://twitter.com/jamieson/statuses/1304424041814593539">1599833901.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents Smithfield Foods workers, <a href="https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/crime/2020/09/10/osha-fines-smithfield-foods-sioux-falls-south-dakota/5768786002/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=f7bf3f03-ce98-4df4-9c45-f44d9a6a5890" target="_blank">slammed</a> the fine as "insulting and a slap on the wrist."</p><p>"How much is the health, safety, and life of an essential worker worth? Based on the actions of the Trump administration, clearly not much," said UFCW president Marc Perrone.</p><p>"This so-called 'fine' is a slap on the wrist for Smithfield, and a slap in the face of the thousands of American meatpacking workers who have been putting their lives on the line to help feed America since the beginning of this pandemic," Perrone added. </p><p>Other critics, including vegans, vegetarians, and animal rights and environmental advocates argued that the accelerated spread of Covid-19 from meatpacking facilities is but the latest compelling argument in favor of reducing—or eliminating—meat consumption.</p><p>"We know that Covid-19 originated in a meat market and that previous influenza viruses originated in pigs and chickens," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) <a href="https://www.peta.org/blog/meat-shortage-slaugherhouses-go-vegan/" target="_blank">said</a> in April amid news that a Foster Farms slaughterhouse in Livingston, California was <a href="https://www.peta.org/blog/coronavirus-covid-19-slaughterhouse-meat-concerns/?utm_source=PETA::Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=0420::veg::PETA::Twitter::Workers%20Blame%20Major%20Pig%20Slaughterhouse%20600%20Infected%20COVID-19::::tweet" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ordered closed</a> by local health authorities due to a Covid-19 outbreak that killed eight employees.</p>
<div id="28490" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="48ddd3480a2beb42597d9516ef652f0f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1252416495990140929" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS! @SmithfieldFoods allegedly took NO PRECAUTIONS to protect the safety of its workers, leaving o… https://t.co/viAJ026pLy</div> — PETA (@PETA)<a href="https://twitter.com/peta/statuses/1252416495990140929">1587434336.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"It's not a matter of <em>whether</em> using and killing animals for food will give rise to another disease outbreak—it's a matter of <em>when</em>," said PETA. "There has never been a better, more obvious time for businesses to put an end to their dirty trade of slaughtering animals for their flesh." </p>
By Andrea Willige
More than half of the world's population lives in cities, and most future population growth is predicted to happen in urban areas. But the concentration of large numbers of people and the ecosystems built around their lives has also been a driver of climate change.