Wildfire Response (SIGNED)

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

After last year’s deadly wildfires, legislators were under pressure to take action to prevent more blazes in the future and figure out how to pay for billions of dollars in damages. This mega-bill,  SB 901,  is the result of a special committee formed to tackle the issue. It sets aside as $200 million for forest health—thinning trees and other projects to make the state’s forests less fire-prone. It also allows utility companies—which are liable for the costs of any fires sparked by their power lines—to pass some of the costs of the 2017 fires onto their customers after a review determining how much the company’s shareholders can afford. For fires that began this year and beyond, a new commission would decide whether utilities can pass costs onto customers and suggest broader changes to liability laws.

WHO SUPPORTS IT

Pacific Gas & Electric, labor unions, fire victims, loggers, firefighting groups, cities and several chambers of commerce say that there’s more good than bad in the bill. They make the point that no one is served if the cost of damages causes a major utility to go bankrupt.

WHO OPPOSES IT

Ratepayer groups—including residential consumers as well as industrial energy users like big agricultural and oil companies—oppose the bill, calling it a bailout for wealthy utilities that failed to properly maintain equipment to prevent fire.

WHY IT MATTERS

California is still experiencing the most destructive fire season ever, and a recent state report forecasts more to come. And more and more research suggests that carbon released during and after fires may make it difficult for the state to reach its climate change goals.

The legislation is, to say the least, the result of a major compromise, and not likely to please everyone. It’s also an attempt to knit together disparate aspects of wildfire response. No one policy can begin to address all the complications of the issue, but proponents argue that’s no reason to not act.

GOVERNOR’S DECISION

Signed by Governor Brown on September 21, 2018.

Brown, in a press release on the bill: “Wildfires in California aren’t going away, and we have to do everything possible to prevent them. This bill is complex and requires investment – but it’s absolutely necessary.”

—Julie Cart