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DA: PG&E’s criminal negligence caused 2018 Camp Fires, will face less than $1M in penalties

BUTTE COUNTY — The Butte County District Attorney’s report on the 2018 Camp Fire alleges that PG&E was “criminally negligent” in its procedures to inspect and maintain electrical infrastructure that has been standing for nearly 100 years. Due to lack of records, poor training, improper procedures, and other cost-cutting measures, a key mechanical element failed on a power line, causing a massively damaging fire which cost an estimated $16.5 billion dollars and 85 lives. 

However the report maintains that “the court’s sentencing options are limited”, because as a corporation PG&E cannot be incarcerated. Since PG&E has shot down any attempts at voluntary probational remedies, the only punishment remaining to the court is a fine to PG&E, the maximum value of which is $10K per count of manslaughter (of which there are 84 counts) and $50K per count of Unlawfully Causing a fire (of which there is 1 count). Thus the maximum fine PG&E could possibly face is $890,000. PG&E has a total market value of just higher than $19 billion dollars as of publication.   

PG&E also faces numerous lawsuits and other legal actions from the hundreds of thousands of displaced and otherwise harmed parties, though it has declared bankruptcy in order to forestall paying out. The report notes that PG&E was also found guilty for its criminal actions leading to the San Bruno gas line explosion in 2010, which also involved criminal negligence with record keeping and safety procedures.

PG&E has since pled guilty to all charges.

Photo Credit: “NorCal Fires Leg Lift” by Calfornia National Guard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ken is a self-described public policy wonk and covers local politics, incarceration, and police. He loves classical music and thinks Michael Tilson Thomas is the greatest thing San Francisco has ever produced.

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