PG&E has been shutting off power to hundreds of thousands of Californians as its response to fires started by their powerlines:

And here’s a PG&E spreadsheet of outages: PG&E Get the data

Transmission lines causing fires is nothing new. After deregulation circa 2000, failure to maintain transmission lines and easement clearing was the cause of the August 2003 blackout that took out much of the Eastern Interconnect:

NERC’s August 2003 Northeast Blackout page

Do explain… why is utility failure to do their job an issue today? Why is PG&E allowed to get away with this, after the 2003 revelations of impact of failure to maintain lines and easements (a logical impact of deregulation, cut corners in every way possible to increase profit and return to shareholders)? Why is PG&E allowed to get away with this after PG&E admittedly caused the Camp Fire?

California Says PG&E Power Lines Caused Camp Fire That Killed 85

From the article:

PG&E previously said that it recognized “that more must be done to adapt to and address the increasing threat of wildfires and extreme weather” and that it was stepping up inspections, tree trimming and maintenance.


So what do they do? This year they admit even more:

PG&E says its equipment may have caused 9 CA fires in 2019.

From that article:

The utility company acknowledged that its equipment may also be the source of the May 29 Spearhead Fire in Fresno County, which burned ten acres. That fire was ignited when a dead tree toppled into a power line. PG&E crews had done maintenance in that area the previous month, but did not trim or remove the 60-foot tree because it was 45 feet away from the line, outside of the legally mandated maintenance zone.

PG&E’s solution? File bankruptcy and shut off hundreds of thousands of people’s electricity.

PG&E failed to cut hundreds of trees close to powerlines

What? From that article:

Under intense pressure to reduce wildfire risk this summer, PG&E Corp. failed to notice that its tree-trimming contractors neglected to chop down hundreds of trees growing dangerously close to power lines, a court-appointed monitor told the federal judge overseeing PG&E’s criminal probation this week.

In one case, a tree trimming contractor falsified records, and the utility never noticed, according to a report filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The findings could spell yet more trouble for California’s largest electric utility, which filed for bankruptcy in January after its power lines were blamed for sparking wildfires that killed dozens of people since 2017. PG&E has embarked on a massive tree trimming effort across its vast service area in response, spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

File bankruptcy? How evasive can you get? But then again, corporations no longer have any legal responsibility to serve the public interest. This was one of the most infuriating examples of what’s wrong with our society that was hammered home in “Corporations I” in law school.

PG&E is already facing criminal action in connection with the 2015 San Bruno gas explosion, convicted of 6 felonies, and is on probation… that’s the venue where PG&E admitted it likely caused so many California fires.

Last August, a federal jury in the case convicted PG&E on five charges of violating federal pipeline safety regulations and one charge of obstructing an official National Transportation Safety Board probe into the blast.

The NTSB eventually determined the disaster had resulted from a lethal combination of PG&E’s shoddy maintenance and flawed record keeping, along with lax oversight by the PUC.

Bankruptcy when faced with responsibility for the “Camp Fire” fire is just evasion. It’s time for JAIL!

More importantly, it’s time to turn PG&E over to the public, to revoke its corporate charter and reform as a PUBLIC utility, and get to work on the issues PG&E is neglecting in its focus on profits for shareholders, and to work in the public interest.

Check out this article

Corporations and the Public Interest

A look at how the originally purpose behind corporate charters has been lost

In short, a few snippets, looking at the balance of limited liability and public interest:

This social role for enterprise, a residue of pre-market society, acted as a necessary ballast and brake to the market. The dispersal of this ballast – including the physical setting of enterprise, the old Main Streets – has helped bring about the growing social chaos.

Market ideology today conveniently sweeps these distinctions under the rug. At a very basic level, it has become a form of cosmological buck-passing that blames abstract “market forces” for the behavior of individuals. The corporation is the institutionalized form of this shirking of responsibility. The primary purpose of the corporate form is to insulate a certain class of people from responsibility for actions taken on their behalf.

When the author was tasked with looking at the corporate charter of a railroad:

The charter spelled out clearly that the corporation had an obligation to serve the public by providing passenger service. That was the condition for the privilege of operating in the corporate form, and also for the generous grants of land it received from the legislature.

In other words, there was a direct link between the exemption from individual responsibility for corporate investors (and later officers), and the public good that the corporation was chartered to carry out.

The important point is that the free incorporation laws tore up the original bargain that was the basis of the corporate form. Corporations no longer had to serve the public. They could do anything they wanted. But they still enjoyed the extraordinary exemption from individual responsibility that they had obtained historically only because they would serve the public.

Then, the Supreme Court decision had the truly ironic effect of turning all human citizens, white as well as black, into second class citizens. Corporations enjoy all the Constitutional protections of human beings, plus exemptions from responsibility that humans don’t enjoy. Plus, of course, they can live forever, which humans can’t do either.

Officers are subject to shareholder suits if they do not put shareholders – i.e. profits – first. The corporation becomes a greed machine, an engine of acquisition that is not subject to the urgings of individual conscience and responsibility.

Free market fundamentalists such as Professor Milton Friedman argue that it is wrong in principle to distract the corporation with any such extraneous concerns as conscience or the need to help the society survive. For the corporation to pursue any goal besides the maximization of monetary profit, he says, would disrupt the cosmic market scheme.

The author has suggestions, here are the two most important:

Individual Responsibility: Executives of large publicly-held corporations should not be able to hide behind the corporate veil. They should be held personally responsible for their actions, and for actions taken in their behalf, to the same extent you or I would be.

Empowerment: … The greater need is to empower individuals and communities to hold corporations accountable for their actions.




One Response to “Irresponsible PG&E — make PG&E public!”

  1. Alan Muller Says:

    Very well said. Of course, public ownership of a utility does not guarantee good behavior or lower costs, as one can see from the performance of various municipal utilities, etc. But at least the opportunity is there.

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