As California wildfires grew, so did PG&E lobbying spending

02 February 2019

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USA – An end-of-the-year bump put PG&E among the top lobbying spenders of the last legislative session, according to disclosures filed Thursday.

The utility spent $1.3 million on lobbying from October through December, bringing its total for the 2017-2018 session to $11.8 million, according to the disclosures. About $820,000 was dedicated to wildfire preparedness and response, according to a public note PG&E included with the filing.

Only the Western States Petroleum Association and Chevron spent more on lobbying over the last two years.

Pacific Gas and Electric’s lobbying spending climbed steadily over the session, spiking last summer as the utility sought to minimize its liability for 2017 wildfires sparked by its equipment in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties. For comparison, the utility spent $2.5 million over the 2015-2016 session.

The results of the increased spending were mixed. Senate Bill 901, signed into law in September, made it easier for utilities to pass fire liability costs on to customers but stopped short of everything PG&E wanted. The company was pushing for a change to California’s “inverse condemnation” law, under which a utility is responsible for compensating property owners for damage caused by its equipment even in cases where the utility hasn’t been proved negligent.

The bill was meant in part to help PG&E avoid filing for bankruptcy, which it did this week. The company’s equipment is a suspect in the investigation over what caused the November Camp Fire, which killed 86 people and destroyed 13,000 homes. The utility has estimated its wildfire liabilities could total $30 billion. SB 901 doesn’t cover 2018 fires.

A federal judge in San Francisco this week questioned PG&E’s commitment to safety, suggesting the utility should have spent more money removing trees near its lines and improving equipment and less money paying dividends to shareholders.

PG&E has said climate change is to blame, not inattention to safety. Credit rating agencies cited climate change — along with California’s inverse condemnation law — in recent credit downgrades not only of PG&E but of Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

“The threat of climate-driven wildfires is real and growing here in California,” PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said Friday. “In 2018 we saw more devastating and deadly wildfires in our state and this is expected to get worse.”

“While legislation that was adopted last year addresses many urgent needs, we must continue to work together to ensure ongoing investment in climate resiliency and clean energy and to combat this devastating threat that extreme weather and climate change impose to our state’s shared energy future,” Paulo said.

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