Devastation caused by PG&E could take decades to repair

While many parts of California sit in a cloud of toxic smoke, and the Dixie Fire continues to ravage the northern part of the state, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. hasn’t paid for the total damage they caused from several prior wildfires just within the last few years.

In the past six years, PG&E, the utility nearly 40% of Californians rely on for electricity and natural gas, has been implicated or convicted in burning well over 1 million acres of California’s lands. PG&E has also been found legally responsible for over 100 deaths in the same time frame. In 2018, the utility admitted to killing 84 Californians when its aging electrical transmission equipment failed and sparked the devastating Camp Fire.

PG&E has allocated over $13 billion into a victims fund to compensate the thousands of people who suffered because of their irresponsible decision making and negligence of maintenance.

Through a special trust created during bankruptcy proceedings for the survivors of the PG&E fires, shares of the company were contributed to the Fire Victim Trust. Victims will ultimately receive cash payments from this trust. How much is yet to be determined. The Fire Victim Trust currently holds nearly one quarter of all PG&E stock.

The fund covers victims of the 2015 Butte Fire, the 2017 North Bay fires and the 2018 Camp Fire.

Many victims have yet to receive actual funds for their losses. Many are still surviving these increasingly hot summers in campers and RV’s as they wait to receive their funds which will hopefully allow them to rebuild.

PG&E stock has plummeted in the past four years. Shares in 2017 went as high as $70. Today PG&E shares are trading for under $10. At the current rate of decline, PG&E's shares will be priced under $5 in just a few years. If PG&E continues awarding their stock to trusts of wildfire victims, the trusts will, at some point, become the majority shareholder.

This information is in the wake of recent admissions by PG&E, that their incompetence and unsafe equipment probably caused the start of the Dixie fire. As of August 6th, the Dixie Fire has burned over 550,000 acres and is the second largest wildfire in the history of California.

According to the California Forest Foundation, an acre of California forest now contains 500 to 1000 trees. An estimate during last year’s fires in Oregon places the amount of burned trees at roughly 350 million. That means PG&E is responsible for approximately that same amount of burned trees during the past five years. Thousands of buildings have been burned to the ground and millions of animals have been killed or displaced.

One of the best ways humans can fight the rapid change in climate that California is facing is by decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Unfortunately, the fires that raged during the California fires in 2020 released more carbon dioxide than all of the cars on the road for an entire year.

While PG&E has been directly linked to hundreds of deaths in California, nobody is quite sure how many thousands of Californians died from the smoke inhalation from the many fires it’s been tied to. Some scientists estimate that smoke inhalation from wildfires killed over 3,600 Californians in 2018. The PG&E induced Camp Fire was responsible for about 10 percent of all the overall acreage burned in California during 2018.

A recent report links the increased amount of fire smoke to an 8.4% increase in COVID-19 mortality cases.

Two weeks ago Greenville, California was the latest city to be added to a list that includes Paradise, Hinkley and Coffey Park. California towns and neighborhoods that have been decimated due to PG&E’s carelessness and criminal neglect. Millions of Californians are at risk of becoming the next casualty in a catastrophe caused by the energy giant.

The overall toll of PG&E’s behavior and irresponsible decision making will take years, possibly decades, to fully calculate.

Correction: This article has been revised to more accurately describe how PG&E contributes to the Fire Victim Fund and victims are compensated.