A California company known as PG&E is facing an environmental lawsuit that arose over its use of a hexavalent chromium additive in its gas compressor stations. Using a hexavalent chromium additive was alleged to violate federal anti-procurement and procurement laws. In settling the lawsuit, the company agreed to pay $333 million to avoid further prosecution.
PG&E’s rickety electrical grid caused deadly wildfires
Five of the state’s most destructive wildfires since 2015 were linked to the PG&E’s faulty electrical grid. Several fires were PG&E’s fault, but the company could have done more to protect the community. An internal PG&E email warned of a tower’s risk of collapse in the town of Paradise, and the damage it would do to repair crews. One tower was a quarter-century past its life expectancy, which could have endangered the lives of crews and the public.
After the blazes, PG&E filed for bankruptcy. The company pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one charge of illegally causing the fire. The company was forced to seek bankruptcy protection in January 2019, after an estimated $30 billion liability was discovered. State regulators said the utility failed to maintain the electrical grid, which caused the deadly fires in Northern California. One transmission line broke from a nearly 100-year-old tower, igniting the Camp Fire. A series of powerful winds had already knocked down several of the utility’s towers before the fire.
PG&E settles lawsuit
Despite recent headlines regarding wildfire safety, California’s largest electric utility will not be subjected to criminal prosecution following a settlement with victims of the Dixie Fire. The fire, which began July 13, 2017, destroyed over a million acres and forced thousands to evacuate their homes. The fire also leveled the historic Gold Rush town of Greenville. As part of the settlement, PG&E must pay nearly $30 million to local charities and district attorneys, which it cannot recover through increased customer rates.
In addition to paying a fine of more than $125 million, Pacific Gas and Electric will also be subject to independent oversight for five years. One of the agreements prevents PG&E from raising rates to cover the $85 million cost of removing abandoned transmission lines from fire-prone areas. A judge must approve the settlement before the deal becomes final. The company must now pay off the fines and begin restoration efforts. However, the company will have to pay more than $135 million in damages.
PG&E faces criminal charges in the 2019 Kincade fire
A California district attorney is considering whether to press criminal charges against PG&E after the company was blamed for the deadly wildfire that devastated the Sonoma County region in 2019. The utility was accused of causing the blaze that destroyed the homes and businesses of more than 7,000 people and forced the largest evacuation in Sonoma County’s history. PG&E’s lawyers are tight-lipped about the specific evidence they have but have asked the judge to pause hearings while the company investigates the charges against it.
PG&E is facing criminal charges on more than 30 counts of the blaze. The company was charged with illegally starting the Camp Fire, which became the deadliest fire in California’s history. The company also faces charges for causing the blaze by ignoring safety procedures and endangering the public’s health and safety. This investigation was conducted by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office after CAL FIRE found that the transmission line used by PG&E was the cause of the fire.
PG&E paid $55 million to avoid criminal prosecution
In a recent court case, the nation’s largest utility agreed to settle a civil lawsuit with the state of California and six county prosecutors to avoid criminal prosecution and prevent the recurrence of future wildfires. The settlement allows PG&E to avoid criminal charges while putting the company under independent oversight for five years. However, the settlement does not eliminate all of the lawsuit’s complexities. Despite the agreement, the utility still faces criminal charges in the 2020 Zogg Fire.
In addition to the $13.5 billion in compensation payments for victims, the company also agreed to five years of independent oversight. Last year, PG&E was found guilty of six felony crimes connected to the 2010 natural gas explosion. The settlements also require PG&E to improve wildfire safety and enhance community response programs to prevent future fires. In addition, PG&E’s executives have agreed to cooperate with Butte County officials to strengthen wildfire safety programs.
PG&E employees sued for anonymity
The names of 22 PG&E employees are being blacked out of documents filed in grand jury investigations. The company wanted their names kept anonymous because of their fear that they would be named in such investigations. But under California law, grand jury transcripts must be released within 10 days. The lawsuit argues that employees should be able to choose whether their names should be released. It is unclear whether PG&E will receive notice of the lawsuit.
Several PG&E employees are suing the company for their right to remain anonymous. A 7,000-page grand jury record lists 200 PG&E employees. The suit argues that the company failed to handle the fire efficiently and should have reduced the number of homes. A judge will rule on the suit in the coming months. An attorney for the company says that the decision to grant anonymity to employees is unfair and inappropriate.
PG&E must pay penalties
In the aftermath of the devastating fires that swept through Northern California in 2017, PG&E was forced to settle several civil lawsuits. In one instance, a lawsuit over a fire that started in Sonoma County claimed the lives of two men and injured six others. Another case related to the massive fire in Shasta County, which destroyed more than five thousand homes. This case also involved the company’s alleged negligence in responding to natural disasters.
Last month, Pacific Gas and Electric agreed to pay $55 million in civil penalties and costs, and avoid criminal prosecution for the Dixie and Kincade fires. As a result of this settlement, the company will receive five years of independent oversight and strengthen its wildfire mitigation plans. In addition, PG&E will have to fund an independent safety monitor for five years. However, this settlement won’t necessarily mean that PG&E will have to change its business practices.