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Investor-Owned Utility Faces Bankruptcy

Scarred landscape and remnants of forest fire in Sierra Nevada Mountains near Tuolumne Meadows California

January 17, 2019

The investor-owned utility Pacific Gas & Electric, California’s largest power company, is facing possible criminal charges and up to $30 billion in liability for wildfires that recently ravaged the state. It’s shares are down more than 20 percent, and it is considering filing for bankruptcy protection. The California Public Utilities Commission is said to be contemplating breaking up the company as part of an investigation into PG&E’s safety culture. Critics are calling for a government takeover, or alternatively for replacement of the huge company with smaller, municipally-owned utilities. Those ideas face tough-going in the legislature because the state would be on the hook for problems that seem to be intractable. Discovering who to blame for a forest fire is problematic at best, but assigning culpability to a deep-pocketed entity that owns power lines in the area where the blaze ignited is as easy as falling off a log. PG&E has been scrutinized closely since a 2010 gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, and recent years have seen the most destructive fires in state history, some of which may have been sparked by PG&E’s infrastructure.

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