Proposed California bill could help PG&E with Camp Fire costs

A California assemblyman has announced plans to introduce a bill that would help PG&E absorb liabilities from the deadly Northern California Camp Fire, but would stop short of doing away with a legislative doctrine that holds utilities responsible for wildfire costs. [Bloomberg]

Assemblyman Chris Holden may introduce a bill as soon as Dec. 3 that would extend protections for utilities from recently enacted legislation to help cover potential liability for death and property damage caused by the Camp Fire. The Camp Fire, which is now 100 percent contained, has killed 85 people and destroyed approximately 19,000 buildings, making it both the deadliest and most destructive blaze in state history. 

A new California law allows utilities to sell bonds to cover liabilities from destructive wildfires that occurred in 2017. The law does not apply to 2018 blazes, but Holden’s proposal would change that.

PG&E and other utilities have sought more far-reaching legislation that would eliminate a rule known as inverse condemnation, which holds utilities responsible for economic damages from wildfires started by their equipment, even if they followed safety rules.

Lawmakers interviewed by Bloomberg said they sense little interest among their colleagues in changing inverse condemnation. Likewise, insurance companies and lawyers want to keep the legal doctrine. 

PG&E has filed disclosures stating the utility experienced power outages near the location the Camp Fire started on the same morning it began. Fire investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blaze, but PG&E has already been hit with lawsuits over the Camp Fire, and damages from the wildfire could exceed $15 billion, according to Citgroup Inc.