Good morning, California.
“Does a judge turn a blind eye and let PG&E continue what you’re doing, let you keep killing people?”—U.S. District Judge William Alsup to lawyers for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., at a hearing Wednesday focusing on the utility’s safety record.
PG&E bankruptcy, Day 2
PG&E is in violation of a 2010 probation.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has violated its probation for the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, a federal judge declared Wednesday, a day after the utility filed for bankruptcy protection from wildfire liability.
- U.S. District Judge William Alsup cited death and destruction caused by PG&E-sparked mega-fires in Northern California.
The Mercury News: “The finding sets the stage for the judge to add additional and costly terms to Pacific Gas & Electric’s criminal probation for the deadly pipeline blast—requirements the utility says could cost billions of dollars and lead to customer rates raising five-fold.”
Alsup said he intends to decide on those additional terms by the start of the fire season in June, and directed that PG&E be on its best behavior.
Alsup: “There is one clear pattern here. PG&E is starting these fires. Global warming is not starting these fires.”
The Sacramento Bee: “PG&E attorney Kevin Orsini argued that PG&E is working ‘night and day’ to improve wildfire safety but is hampered by a variety of factors, including a shortage of qualified tree trimmers and the complexity of ordering blackouts to a wide area.”
The utility’s lawyer acknowledged that his client has a “credibility problem.”
A sobering view on PG&E
Michael Picker, left, and Assemblyman Jim Patterson after Wednesday's hearing.
Making Californians safer from climate-driven wildfires is going to be expensive, and we’re not remotely prepared.
- That was the sobering response from California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker to state lawmakers Wednesday, according to CALmatters’ Judy Lin, who was in the audience.
The CPUC would need 15,000 to 20,000 new staff to police every electricity pole and wire, Picker told the Assembly utilities committee. The state also could use drones to improve risk management by developing pattern recognition.
To force PG&E board members to prioritize public safety, the commission could also split off the gas division and break up the company, Picker said.
When Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, who represents Santa Rosa, asked what he could tell his fire-ravaged district, Picker replied that the state is experiencing the impact of climate change at an alarming rate.
Picker: “I don’t think we are in any way prepared for the enormity of what we’ve seen.”
Wood tweeted: “I want to hear a sense of urgency. We don’t have have time for a standard bureaucratic approach.”
Pension funds are taking a PG&E hit, too: Democratic Assemblywoman Autumn Burke of Los Angeles noted that as PG&E’s stock tumbled, California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a major holder of PG&E stock, lost $67 million. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System lost $40 million.
California’s electricity grid under attack
Besides bankruptcy, terrorists and rodents also threaten the grid.
As if having the state’s largest utility in bankruptcy and on criminal probation isn’t enough, Californians’ ability to have light at the flip of a switch is at risk from terrorists, hostile nations, hackers, nuts with guns, and rodents.
- In the second installment of her series, Frayed Wires, CALmatters reporter Julie Cart details threats to California’s electricity grid, that system of poles, wires, transformers and other equipment that delivers energy from power plants to homes and businesses.
Cart: “Although the wildfires that periodically dominate the news are a serious threat to California’s power supply, cyber-invaders are an around-the clock danger, trying to penetrate grid security every minute of every day. An all-hands-on-deck battle is being waged against them, and the network that serves nearly 40 million people’s homes, industries and public-safety agencies depends on a successful defense.”
Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Los Angeles Democrat who was Assembly Speaker during the 2000-01 energy crisis: “It’s unbelievable, oh, my God; there are so many things that can go wrong. Security is a big deal, and it’s become a big deal because we rely on electricity for everything.”
Carve out some time to better understand the grid.
GOP pundits help Trump reshape CA courts
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has new Trump nominees.
President Donald Trump renominated six conservatives to federal courts in California Wednesday after being pummeled first in a Wall Street Journal editorial and later by conservative commentators for supposedly negotiating with U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris over judicial nominees.
Politico, early on Wednesday: “Within 24 hours, the paper’s editorial had ricocheted across the right and sparked an outcry about another Trump surrender.”
Later on Wednesday, the Republican President released a list that included three conservative nominees to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and and three to U.S. District Courts in California.
The Washington Times: “Mr. Trump’s list should put those fears to rest.”
Feinstein and Harris: “Unfortunately, the White House is moving forward with three nominees to a circuit court who have no judicial experience. The White House’s decision to push these nominees fails to secure consensus on the circuit court.”
One possible concession: Trump last year proposed placing Patrick Bumatay, a federal prosecutor who is a conservative and gay, on the 9th Circuit. On Wednesday, Trump nominated Bumatay to the U.S. District Court in San Diego.
- In bygone times, presidents consulted with senators to nominate compromise candidates for the lifetime appointments. That was then. Now, partisan changes in Senate rules give minority party senators little if any say over judicial nominations.
Newsom's health care promises
Nurses rally for single-payer health care in 2017 in San Francisco.
Single-payer health care was a signature promise for Gov. Gavin Newsom, but he’s also pursuing strategic backup plans, just in case, CALmatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.
- “Newsom has taken two tacks,” writes Aguilera. “He’s asking the Trump administration to let the state create its own single-payer system offering coverage to all Californians—a move almost everyone regards as a very long shot. And he’s also pushing specific ideas to expand health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of still-uninsured Californians—a move that seems much more do-able.”
There are political reasons for this, and also potential risks for the new governor, who has promised so much to so many. To follow Newsom’s progress on single payer and other items on his campaign to-do list, check the CALmatters Promise Tracker here.
Commentary at CALmatters
Changes to Prop. 13 could make California's housing crisis worse.
Joel Fox, former president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association: Why is a split roll initiative a bad idea? Changing Proposition 13 to permit commercial property to be taxed at market value would worsen the housing crisis and destabilize government finances. Just as taxpayers make adjustments to reduce their taxes, government officials embrace projects that will increase revenue.
Dan Walters, CALmatters: Willie Brown, former speaker of the state Assembly and former mayor of San Francisco, played key roles in the political careers of Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris and now has seen his proteges become national political figures.
Please email or call with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected]
See you tomorrow.