Pacific Gas & Electric on Monday agreed to pay $55 million in fines and costs to settle civil cases brought by plaintiffs over wildfires in six Northern California counties.
The agreement allows PG&E to avoid criminal prosecution for causing last year’s Dixie Fire — the second largest fire in California history — and the Kinkade fire in 2019. The settlement includes tens of millions of dollars in payments to local organizations, schools and government agencies, and will fund an independent safety monitor for five years of sentencing. civil.
Prosecutors said they filed a civil lawsuit against PG&E to gain more benefits for victims than criminal prosecution would allow. The maximum criminal fines for the Dixie Fire — which burned 963,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,300 buildings in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, and Tihama counties — totaled $329,417.
“This settlement avoids bankruptcy and excessive delays for homeowners and renters in the Dixie fires – particularly those without insurance,” Butte County District Attorney Michael L. Ramsey said in a statement.
Investigators determined that a tree came into contact with PG&E power lines near Cresta Dam, about 100 miles north of Sacramento, starting the fire.
The Kinkade Fire burned nearly 78,000 acres in Sonoma County, injuring four people and destroying 374 buildings. In December, state regulators fined PG&E $125 million in connection with the fire.
“Although criminal charges have been dismissed, the level of punishment and oversight provided by this ruling is greater than what can be achieved against a corporation in criminal court,” Sonoma County District Attorney Gil Ravic said.
Ms. Ravic said the decision to reach a settlement also resulted from the failure of state lawmakers to pass laws to increase penalties for companies found to be in breach of the law. She added that the state’s attorney general, Rob Ponta, refused to file any legal action against PG&E.
Mr. Ponta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
PG&E said it is working to increase accountability and transparency to the public, which the settlement will continue to help improve.
Patricia K. said: Bob, CEO of PG&E Corporation: “We are committed to doing our part, and we look forward to a long-term partnership with these communities to make it right and make it safe.”
The settlement did not include the Zogg Fire, which killed four people, set more than 56,000 acres and destroyed 204 buildings in Shasta County in the fall of 2020. In this case, PG&E faces felonies and felonies, including manslaughter.
Federal and state prosecutors have previously won convictions and guilty pleas against PG&E related to gas pipeline explosions and wildfires. PG&E’s felonies include 84 counts of premeditated murder that resulted from the camp fire that devastated Paradise Town in 2018.
The campfire and several other wildfires dating back to 2015 led PG&E to file for bankruptcy protection after the company raised $30 billion in liability for the wildfires. The tool emerged from bankruptcy in July 2020.
The facility has proposed spending billions of dollars on underground transmission lines to help prevent its equipment from causing fires.