Oakland, CA, Feb. 18, 2020 – Today, Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, California State Senators Glazer (D-Orinda) and Hill (D-San Mateo), were all on hand to announce the introduction of The Utility Accountability and Wildfire Prevention Act of 2020, AB 2356.
AB 2356 will expand enforcement authority to the Attorney General and local District Attorneys to bring an action against an electrical corporation for failure to comply with current safety standards, regulations and requirements. Currently, only the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has this authority.
“Our state is facing dire circumstances. Four of the five largest wildfires in California’s history have happened in the past seven years,” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan. “The devastating loss of loved ones, homes and in some cases, entire communities must not be endured again. By empowering local jurisdictions to enforce existing safety regulations, we aim to stop the next disaster before it starts. This is a statewide crisis, and this this bill will help defend our communities from negligent utilities.”
While the impact of some of California’s recent deadly fires can be attributed to our growing climate crisis, there is no doubt that decades of utility companies’ mismanagement, and their refusal to put the safety of the public over profits, is also to blame.
“California must face the reality that climate change will continue to pose massive threats of wildfires throughout the state. We cannot afford to be complacent. This bill allows local District Attorneys and the Attorney General to enforce laws requiring utilities to take all necessary measures to ensure their equipment is safe and well maintained. As District Attorneys, our job is to ensure the safety of our communities. This legislation gives us the tools to prevent further catastrophic loss of life and property by ensuring utility companies abide by the laws,” stated DA O’Malley.
Due to the inability to depend on integrity of its equipment, extreme malfeasance, deferred maintenance, and lack of inspection of lines and equipment, in October of 2019 PG&E started instituting Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). These PSPS events, in an attempt to prevent wildfires caused by equipment in high-risk areas, knocked out power for millions of individuals for days at a time.
AB 2356 is modeled after the current enforcement authority of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, which also shares enforcement authority with local district attorneys to bring actions against companies and individuals who violate state safety regulations.
“This bill in no way diminishes the primary responsibility or authority of the CPUC to enforce and take action against electrical companies,” added Bauer-Kahan. “This bill simply adds the Attorney General and District Attorneys to the enforcement team so they can act to protect and ensure the safety of Californians against utilities that have a long track record of neglecting our safety.”
“We must do all we can to force PG&E to run an electricity grid that protects lives and property from wildfires when the wind blows. This bill gives California a new tool to keep us safe by allowing the Attorney General and local district attorneys to enforce utility safety standards,” added Senator Steve Glazer.
“Bad actors among the utilities that are supposed to serve California must be held accountable, and this important legislation by Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan provides our state with stronger tools to do so,” said state Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. “This bill makes it clear that our state attorney general and our county prosecutors can also initiate cases against bad-acting utilities – in addition to any regulatory case pursued by the CPUC. I thank Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan for her leadership on this legislation and am proud to coauthor her bill.”
Coauthors of the bill include State Senators Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco), and Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Tim Grayson (D-Concord), Marc Levine (D-Marin County), Monique Limon (D-Santa Barbara), Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita), Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland).