Kathleen Ronayne, Associated Press
(AP) — California's three major utilities spent at least $1.3 million to lobby state government in the first three months of 2019, during which one filed for bankruptcy and Gov. Gavin Newsom called for rethinking the state's energy future.
PG&E and the parent companies for Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric disclosed on Monday their spending between Jan. 1 and March 31. They spent that money paying lobbyists to advance their interests before the state Legislature, state agencies and the California Public Utilities Commission, the state's utility regulator.
Edison International, Southern California Edison's parent company, spent the most at nearly $679,000, while Sempra, which includes San Diego Gas & Electric, spent about $396,000. PG&E, in the midst of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, spent $277,000. Nearly a third of the spending by PG&E went toward lobbying the CPUC, which oversees utilities' wildfire safety plans and voted in January to let the utility access credit and loans during the bankruptcy.
The three investor-owned utilities are under increasing pressure as California experiences deadlier and more destructive wildfires, with some of the worst attributed to utility equipment. State law makes utilities financially liable for damage caused by wildfires sparked by their equipment.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January saying it couldn't afford potentially tens of billions in costs related to the fires. Credit rating agencies recently downgraded the bond status of Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, citing the growing risks from wildfires.
Newsom, a Democrat, has asked lawmakers to consider changing the liability standard. Lawmakers are also weighing how to fairly split the costs of wildfires to ensure victims are paid, customers' bills don't spike and utilities' still attract investors.
All three utilities lobbied on more than 100 pending bills, not all related to wildfires.
PG&E's disclosure showed the utility lobbied Newsom's office related to the bankruptcy and the Legislature on issues including wildfire response and litigation. Edison's filing shows it spent more than $95,000 on food and other expenses for lawmakers, staff of lawmakers and the governor, and CPUC employees including President Michael Picker. Sempra's filing showed it lobbied Newsom's office and state agencies including the California Air Resources Board, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Southern California Edison "is supporting efforts to find comprehensive solutions to the urgent and growing threats of wildfire and is exercising its responsibility to engage with state policy makers to discuss the solutions that we believe are needed," spokeswoman Gloria Quinn said in an emailed statement.
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