forest fire burning on the horizon

California Fires: PG&E Ordered to Explain Any Role It Had In The Camp and Tubbs Fires

In what could be a huge blow to PG&E, a Federal court judge has ordered PG&E to explain any role it had in the Camp and Tubb fires. 

Why do we believe this could be a huge blow? PG&E has not been very forthcoming with information. For example, more than a year after the devastating Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, we still have no official answers about the cause of that fire. Citing ongoing investigations, PG&E always seem to bunt any responsibility. 

However, this Order from Judge Alsup could change all that. Judge Alsup is the Judge responsible for the criminal case against Pacific Gas & Electric for the San Bruno fire. 

In his Order, Judge Alsup said he wants to know whether any requirements in the sentence handed down last year for the pipeline blast in San Bruno “might be implicated” if the reckless operation or maintenance of PG&E power lines ignited a wildfire. He noted that the sentence required PG&E not to engage in any additional crimes. 

This obviously puts PG&E in a very difficult position. To say that a Federal Court Judge has an enormous amount of power over PG&E at this point would be an understatement. PG&E is a convicted felon over the San Bruno explosion. One would think that PG&E might try and stall the Court by claiming it doesn’t have full information or that the investigation is ongoing. 

However, Judge Alsup also asked what requirements of the sentence might be affected by any “inaccurate, slow, or failed reporting of information about any wildfire by PG&E” and what steps the independent monitor has taken to improve the utility’s safety and reporting on power lines and wildfires. The judge asked for “an accurate and complete statement” of any role PG&E may have played in the Camp fire and all other wildfires in California since its sentencing. 

Thus PG&E will likely face a very difficult choice: try and blow off a Federal Court Judge that it has to answer to or be forthcoming to the Court and potentially expose its culpability in these fires. It is possible that Judge Alsup may allow PG&E to file its answers under seal so that PG&E can both answer the Court’s questions and protect itself from the answers. 

Nevertheless, this is huge news for all the victims and survivors of the Camp and Tubb fires. Perhaps we will get some answers about the role of PG& in these fires in the very near future. 

Here are the exact questions PG&E is ordered to answer by December 31, 2018: 

1. What requirements of the judgment herein, including the requirement against further federal, state, or local crimes, might be implicated were any wildfire started by reckless operation or maintenance of PG&E power lines? 

2. What requirements of the judgment herein might be implicated by any inaccurate, slow, or failed reporting of information about any wildfire by PG&E? 

3. What specific steps has the monitor herein taken to monitor and improve PG&E safety and reporting with respect to power lines and wildfires? 

4. Provide an accurate and complete statement of the role, if any, of PG&E in causing and reporting the recent Camp Fire in Butte County and all other wildfires in California since the judgment herein.