Investigation

PG&E Judge Threatens Probation Crackdown

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A day after PG&E admitted to failing to meet the terms of its probation, the judge threatened to order the bankrupt company to hire enough workers to comply with state law and cut trees that could threaten its power lines in high fire risk areas.  

In a sternly worded order, U.S. Judge William Alsup raised the prospect of a crackdown, given that PG&E now “admits that it is not in full compliance” with its probation terms. In a filing this week, the company acknowledged it has not met its goal of cutting trees that could fall on lines and has also failed to meet quality goals and timelines for making safety repairs.

In his order, Alsup cited statements by CEO Bill Johnson about how it could take up to ten years to do the needed vegetation clearance work – given the company had long “failed to comply with California law regarding trimming and removing” trees near its lines. The company, the judge said, has “repeatedly blamed the lack of contract crews for its shortfalls in vegetation compliance.’’

So, he ordered PG&E to appear on Feb. 19 to explain “why a further condition of probation should not be imposed” to force it to hire enough of its own crews and bring in the needed resources “to inspect and to trim and remove all vegetation so as to come into compliance with the California Public Resources Code and PG&E’s own wildfire mitigation plan.”

Alsup ordered a written response, under oath, the week in advance of that hearing, stressing that the company needed to specify “the era during which PG&E did, in fact, have its own vegetation removal/trimming crews” to complete the work under the law and  “address how many crews it had and how many were in each crew and what equipment they used.”

The company issued a statement late Thursday, saying: “We are aware of the order and will respond within the deadline set by the court.”

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