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Gov. Brown Discusses Need To Protect California Utilities From Fire Liability

Don Thompson / AP Photo

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters on the California wildfires and other matters at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services' operations center near Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018.

Don Thompson / AP Photo

California Gov. Jerry Brown said he believes electric utilities could go bankrupt due to the increasing threat of wildfires, if current law isn’t changed.

After touring the state emergency operations headquarters, which is coordinating efforts to contain fires that have burned more than 300,000 acres, the governor discussed his proposal to limit power companies’ liability when their equipment causes the fires.

“My goal was to try to find a reasonable balance that would reward players, including utilities, for doing the right thing, but make them liable when they didn’t take the steps that commonsense and prudence would warrant,” Brown said.

Consumer advocates, insurers and trial attorneys object to a change, while utilities have lobbied heavily to go beyond Brown’s proposal. In its latest filing on Tuesday, PG&E reported more than $1.5 million in lobbyist spending last quarter — more than triple the amount it spent in any quarter last year.

Brown also acknowledged another reason he supports protecting the power companies: climate change. Climate change contributes to the drier, hotter and longer fire seasons, and Brown said utilities’ going bankrupt would hurt the state’s efforts to combat it.

“There is concern that we could lose our utilities, and if we do that, our whole program of trying to deal with renewable energy and mitigate climate change could be adversely affected,” Brown said.

Lawmakers have tasked power companies with implementing many of the state’s most ambitious climate change goals, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions and supporting electric vehicle adoption.

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