PG&E Says Prosecutor Wrong on ‘Callous Disregard’ for Safety
(Bloomberg) -- PG&E Corp. didn’t dispute the basic facts in a county prosecutor’s report that found it squarely at fault for the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history, but took exception to being condemned for a “callous disregard” for safety.
PG&E was ordered by the federal judge overseeing its probation to identify any false statements in the 105-page report, which describes in excruciating detail the physical and human devastation of the 2018 Camp Fire that incinerated the town of Paradise, California, and how it originated with the utility’s worn, neglected and faulty equipment.
The report by Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey is the culmination of his investigation that forced the company last month to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each person killed in the blaze.
PG&E admitted that the report offers “a sufficient factual basis” for its plea, according to the response it filed Wednesday. But the company rejected Ramsey’s conclusions that it “ignored warning signs, elevated profits over safety, did the absolute minimum to mitigate fire danger, and took advantage of a position of trust.”
While it’s little surprise that PG&E didn’t find fault with the essential facts in Ramsey’s report that served as the basis for the company’s guilty plea, the looming question is how U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco will react. The judge has been a reliably harsh critic of the utility while overseeing its probation stemming from a previous conviction for safety violations stemming a fatal gas-pipeline explosion in San Bruno in 2010.
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In his report to Alsup, Ramsey noted PG&E’s probation performance as “unsatisfactory” because it committed another crime in causing the Camp Fire. One of the conditions of the utility’s probation, which runs through January 2022, is that it can’t commit any more crimes.
“By ignoring the lessons of San Bruno PG&E condemned itself to another catastrophe,” Ramsey said in the report. “Based upon its own history PG&E knew it was creating a high risk of causing a catastrophic fire but, unlike a reasonable person, chose to ignore that risk. Because of PG&E’s reckless and negligent decisions to unreasonably ignore risk, 18,804 structures, including almost 14,000 residential structures were destroyed -- and 84 Butte County citizens needlessly lost their lives.”
The prosecutor wrote that the same company policies that failed to prevent the Camp Fire were at play in the 2015 Butte Fire, the 2017 Wine Country Fires, the 2017 Honey Fire and the Kincade Fire in 2019, which destroyed about 450 structures in Sonoma County. In Wednesday’s filing PG&E denied causing the Kincade fire, saying the cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
Ramsey didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case is U.S. v. Pacific Gas and Electric Co., 14-cr-00175, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
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