As much as PG&E deserves the bankruptcy court equivalent of the electric chair, justice will not be served until its accomplices and the accessories after the fact in the death of 84 people go down with the rogue for-profit utility as well.
PG&E is finally on trial this week in a California criminal court for its wanton disregard for human life and property.
The Butte County Superior Court trial comes 25 months after the aging and dilapidated equipment of the company with a long history of neglect and greed sparked a wildfire that killed 84 people, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and other structures such as churches, stores, and schools, and displaced more than 6,000 people.
PG&E has made a plea deal. It admitted guilt to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter. It will pay a maximum fine of $3.5 million and pay $500,000 to cover the county’s court costs. PG&E — which is already on criminal probation for federal felony charges stemming from its 2010 handiwork where a natural gas pipeline exploded leveling a San Bruno neighborhood and killing 8 people — avoids a second criminal probation under the deal.
No one will go to jail as no PG&E executive is being charged.
This despite an abundance of documentation that shows executive presided over a corporate culture that avoided funding needed equipment replacement and safety work to pad profits.
Had one of the customers PG&E killed been convicted of let’s say six counts of involuntary manslaughter they would have ended up with seven years in prison.
PG&E principals who were at the wheel in November of 2018 when the Camp Fire essentially wiped out the Town of Paradise as their punishment were forced to leave the company pocketing multi-million dollar severance and retirement packages that makes the $3.5 million fine PG&E has agreed to pay for killing 84 people look like a couple of pennies they dropped on the sidewalk and left there because it wasn’t worth the effort to pick them up.
All this means PG&E — complicit in at least 130 deaths of Californians from wildfires, poisoning drinking water, and natural gas pipeline explosions — will be free to kill again and, by its own estimates, pocket record profits by 2025.
So how does the most notorious killer in California history get away with slaughtering its customers?
Look no further than their accomplices at the California Public Utilities Commission and those who qualify as accessories after the fact — the California Legislature.
The CPUC, whose sole reason for existence is to serve as a watchdog for consumers to protect them from the greed and negligence of for-profit utilities, for years failed to keep PG&E in check. PG&E has been repeatedly been caught in lies and failing to do safety work that justified parts of countless rate increases but barely got a slap on the wrist.
When the 2010 San Bruno explosion killed one of their own — a CPUC staffer — the CPUC finally got tough and slapped PG&E on the wrist twice. But in fairness that is only after digging from outside organizations revealed ongoing documentation of PG&E knowledge and subsequent failure to address failing natural gas transmission lines across Northern California.
One of the top 15 lines tagged as being in fairly eminent danger of failing that PG&E was directed to upgrade after ignoring the work for years cut through rural south Manteca. It was luck of the draw of fate that the people killed in 2010 were from San Bruno and not neighbors in Manteca or people along the route of other defective pipelines PG&E has since replaced.
The CPUC should really be on trial as well in a criminal court.
Then there are those who labored as accessories after the fact — the California Legislature.
They are PG&E’s “buds” they wined and dined on a Hawaiian junket and lined their pockets with campaign contributions.
They also have the power to end PG&E’s reign of terror by forcing a breakup or using powers invested in them by the state constitution to acquire the system and then allow the formation of public agencies such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Modesto Irrigation District.
Not only are SMUD and MID not on felony federal criminal probation, have not filed for bankruptcy let alone two bankruptcies, or killed off customers but they also provide power at substantially lower rates than PG&E.
The preordained outcome of the drama of sorts now unfolding in a Butte County courtroom comes as PG&E is counting on a federal bankruptcy judge to turn it loose once again to pursue record profits.
The bankruptcy court decision to reject or embrace the latest reincarnation of the corporate killing machine is due by June 30.
Given the Wall Street hedge funds licking their chops to get a piece of PG&E State guaranteed 11.5 percent minimum profit margin sweetened by $10 billion worth of safety work ratepayers will be ordered to pay for with 12 percent higher electric prices, the court will likely side with letting PG&E live to kill another day.
With a little luck a public relations nightmare won’t occur for PG&E or a political firestorm be set off for Sacramento regulators and politicians in the form of a planned power outage on the day the bankruptcy court gives its blessing for PG&E to return to record profits just days after the company pleads guilty to 84 counts in involuntary manslaughter.
And if by some chance faulty, aging, and inadequately maintains PG&E equipment sparks a deadly wildfire that day that burns a couple of ratepayers’ homes, wipes out a neighborhood or two, or perhaps wipes another town off the face of the earth, California’s spineless leaders can just chalk it up to the cost of doing business the PG&E way.