California Regulators Skeptical of PG&E’s Promise to Improve Safety

California regulators expressed skepticism that Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.’s new leaders have enough professional experience to instill the deep corporate culture of safety they say the company has lacked.

The utility has been blamed for more than a dozen of California’s most destructive wildfires in the past two years.

California’s Governor Proposes Wildfire Fund, Seeks PG&E Fix

California Gov. Gavin Newsom gave legislators just three months to address a multibillion-dollar wildfire liability problem that has forced the state’s largest power company, PG&E Corp., into bankruptcy and threatens the same fate for its other utilities.

The governor issued a report Friday outlining possible solutions for how costs for destructive wildfires will be covered, including a possible fund that utilities can tap into, that sent the clearest signal yet that the state will move to keep its power companies solvent. He called for legislation to be passed before lawmakers take a month-long summer recess on July 12, sending shares of PG&E and its peers soaring. It was made known two weeks ago that Newsom was also drafting plans to respond to wildfires more broadly, and his proposal has been expected.

California Lawmakers Eyeing Catastrophic Wildfire Fund

Creation of a catastrophic wildfire risk pool is emerging as the most likely option as California lawmakers seek to protect the solvency of investor-owned utilities from record payouts for fire damages.

PG&E filed for a bankruptcy reorganization this year, saying it needed the court’s protection because it cannot count on the California Public Utilities Commission to allow it to recoup its costs through rates. The legislature last year created the Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery, which is due to recommend ways of mitigating wildfire risks by July 1. Gov. Gavin Newsom is also drafting plans to respond to wildfires more broadly and is expected to release a proposal late next week.

Gov. Newsom Declares Wildfire Emergency Ahead of New Fires

(TNS) — Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California on Friday and waived environmental regulations to expedite nearly three dozen local forest management projects to protect communities from the deadly wildfires that have decimated regions up and down the state.

The governor's action marks the latest effort by the state to offset the possibility of catastrophe after back-to-back years of savage wildfires that killed more than 100 people and burned nearly 2 million acres in total. The projects will cost a total of $35 million, which will be paid with forest management funds in the 2018-19 budget.

Technology Wildfire Summit Highlights California’s Progress

Fighting wildfires has traditionally been a response driven by experience, but as conditions change, as they have in California, that response becomes more difficult.

Climate change has made the wildfire seasons in California longer and more severe, and that makes response that is based on history and experience difficult. But that’s beginning to change because of technology as more than 700 stakeholders learned this week at the Wildfire Technology Innovation Summit held at California State University, Sacramento.

A recent drought in California and global warming, in part, has led to increasingly intense fires that in 2017 and 2018 killed more than 100 people in 2017 and 2018, burning more than 875,000 acres. The changing conditions have resulted in a fire season that is nearly year-round.

Sea Level Rise Could Hurt California More than Wildfires, Earthquakes

(TNS) - In the most extensive study to date on sea level rise in California, researchers say damage by the end of the century could be far more devastating than the worst earthquakes and wildfires in state history.

A team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists concluded that even a modest amount of sea level rise — often dismissed as a creeping, slow-moving disaster — could overwhelm communities when a storm hits at the same time.

The study combines sea level rise and storms for the first time, as well as wave action, cliff erosion, beach loss and other coastal threats across California. These factors have been studied extensively but rarely together in the same model.

PG&E ‘Unsafe’ Actions, ‘Dismal’ Prevention, Caused Wildfires

(TNS) — PG&E's "unsafe conduct" caused a gas explosion in San Bruno and several fatal Northern California wildfires, but a federal judge will allow PG&E to primarily focus on tree-trimming rather than be forced to launch a complete inspection of its power grid.

"The judge's actions don't really ensure the safety of the system," said Mike Danko, a Redwood City-based attorney who represents some Northern California wildfire victims. "I guess this is a first step towards safety."

Nevertheless, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, who is supervising PG&E's probation in the wake of its criminal conviction for felonies it committed before and after a deadly gas explosion in San Bruno, blamed PG&E's deficient safety efforts for causing both the San Bruno disasters and a string of lethal wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018.

Commentary: With Climate Change, Who Should Prevent California Wildfires?

(TNS) — Intense mega-fires have become the “new abnormal” in California. The wildfires are out, for now. Thank you, firefighters! But the fight over who should bear the costs of future damage compensation and risk mitigation is heating up.

Citing wildfire liabilities upwards of $30 billion, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the state’s largest electric utility, recently filed for bankruptcy. Headlines hail this the first of many “climate change bankruptcies.” But climate change is only one factor. These fires would not be so big if we did not send power through thousands of miles of tinderbox forest at high-risk times. Liabilities would not be so large if fewer people lived in high fire-risk areas.

Should California Insure Against Spending too Much on Fighting Wildfires?

(TNS) - This would be a first for California: state government buying insurance to protect itself against overspending its budget.

But before you start pelting the politicians and screaming fiscal irresponsibility, know that the budget-busting would be for fighting wildfires.

That puts it in an entirely different category from, say, controversial spending to help immigrants who are here illegally, or trying to register voters at the notoriously jammed DMV.

Heaviest Storm of the Season to Hit Fire-Scarred Southern California

(TNS) — The strongest and potentially wettest storm of the winter season is bearing down on Southern California this week, threatening to unleash debris flows in burn areas in Orange and Riverside counties as the region’s wild winter continues.

The atmospheric river-fueled storm, packed with subtropical moisture, will take aim at large swaths of the already-soaked state beginning early Wednesday and lasting through Thursday.

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