California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing a change to state law that could relieve utilities of liability for power lines and machines sparking fires.
Brown introduced the proposal to the state legislature July 24. The bill would change a law that holds companies legally responsible for damage caused by fires started by their equipment, no matter whether the equipment is properly maintained. Victims of fire would still be able to claim damages against companies, but the companies would have to be taken to court first, The Washington Post reports.
Wildfires are ravaging parts of California, building on the historic amount of destruction caused by fires in 2017. The Carr Fire, the largest currently burning in California, has torched more than 130,000 acres and razed more than 1,500 buildings. Two firefighters have died fighting the blaze, which has become the sixth largest fire in California’s history. (RELATED: California Wildfires Are So Big They Are Creating Massive Fire Tornadoes)
“Now more than ever, Californians depend on reliable electrical power to heat and cool homes, run hospitals and fire stations and so much more,” Brown wrote in a July 24 letter to the state legislators. “Yet, the increasingly destructive and costly wildfires and natural disasters have the potential to undermine this system, leaving our energy sector in a state of weakness at a time when it should be making even greater investments in safety.”
Former-California legislator Noreen Evans blasted Brown’s proposal for its timing, falling in the middle of an intense fire season and while communities are still trying to rebuild after 2017 wildfires, according to WaPo.
“Governor Brown’s proposal would relieve public utilities of responsibility for the fires caused by their equipment by mandating that judges balance the ‘public benefit’ of utilities against the private harm,” Evans wrote in an email to the San Francisco Chronicle. “No other wrongdoer is given that kind of consideration by our courts when they kill, maim or harm innocent people.”
Evans is an attorney representing more than 1,000 victims of 2017 wildfires in a lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric (PGE), California’s largest utility.
Brown’s proposal does not apply to 2017 wildfires, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
PGE supports Brown’s proposal and says the current law has grown outdated and is a threat to the stability of utilities.
“The liability laws and the way they are applied in the courts were not made for this challenge we’re dealing with right now, these climate-driven wildfires,” PGE spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo told WaPo. “Without reform, energy companies are going to face massive, essentially uninsurable risks even when they followed established safety rules.”
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