According to court documents filed by the state attorney general, the largest public service provider in California could face murder or manslaughter charges if it is held responsible for causing the state’s recent deadly forest fires.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co., or PG & E, could face a variety of criminal offenses should any of the wildfires occur as a result of the utility’s failure to properly operate and maintain the power lines, according to an amicus report presented at the US District Court By the Attorney General of California Xavier Becerra.
PG & E, which provides electricity to approximately 16 million Californians, has been under scrutiny for the way it maintains its infrastructure amidst questions about what caused the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.
According to the report, the potential charges range from minor offenses related to the cleaning of the vegetation around the power lines, to minor offenses or felonies if the fire was started, to “crimes of homicide such as murder by implicit malice and involuntary manslaughter” .
Possible charges would depend on an investigation into the cause of the fire and, if PG & E were responsible, the degree of negligence and recklessness of the utility provider.
The attorney general’s office has not reached a conclusion about PG & E’s liability for the recent fires and is not taking a position on the issue, the report said.
The brief was filed in response to a request from US District Court Judge William Alsup that officials explain what crimes PG & E could have committed if they had been found responsible for the wildfires.
In response to Becerra’s judicial presentation, PG & E said it is determined to do everything possible to reduce the risk of forest fires.
“The most important responsibility of PG & E is public safety and the workforce, and our focus continues to be to evaluate our infrastructure to further improve safety and help our customers continue to recover and rebuild,” he said in a statement.
Last month, Alsup ordered the company to explain the possible role it could have played in the cause of the wildfires, including the Camp Fire, which broke out on November 8 and claimed at least 85 lives.
After the fire, PG & E reported “an interruption” on a transmission line in the area where the fire started, about 15 minutes before it started. The company also reported finding electrical equipment and a downed power pole filled with bullet holes and a fallen line with tree branches.
The cause of Camp Fire is still under investigation, according to state fire officials.
Utility has a checkered past
In recent years, PG & E has suffered repeated blows to its reputation due to its connection with other disasters and for not complying with regulatory standards.
He is currently on probation after being convicted on several counts of an explosion of the PG & E oil pipeline in 2010 in San Bruno that killed 8 people and injured more than 50 people. PG & E was put to the test and fined $ 1.6 billion for the commission for the unsafe operation of its gas transmission system.
Last year, the company was sentenced to another five years of probation and a $ 3 million fine after being found guilty of multiple violations of the Natural Gas Pipe Safety Act.
It was also discovered that the PG & E team caused 17 fires last year, often after branches or trees came into contact with power lines, by California firefighters.
The investigators determined that in 11 cases the company violated the codes related to the clearance or related violations and referred the matter to the prosecutors. No charges have been filed against PG & E in relation to the violations.
Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission stated that PG & E did not locate or mark natural gas pipelines in a timely manner and pressured workers to falsify the data, so the location and tagging work would not appear. so late.
PG & E agreed with the findings of the CPUC in a statement published at that time.
“We are committed to accurate and complete information and record keeping, and we do not honor that commitment in this case,” spokesman Matt Nauman said.
The company said it was taking steps to comply with regulatory standards, including updating its protocol, hiring more workers and better training.