PG&E Sponsors TV Wildfire Commercials — Though You Wouldn’t Know By Watching Them
By Hannah Norman, SAN FRANCISCO BUSINESS TIMES
August 16, 2018
PG&E and California’s other major utilities are backing television ads across the state, sponsoring messaging favoring an overhaul to the state’s wildfire liability rules.
The ads were created by the Building Resilient Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s Economy (BRITE) coalition, comprised of more than 1,300 organizations and individuals, including California’s three investor backed utilities, business representatives, state lawmakers and Chamber of Commerce leaders, such as San Francisco’s president Tallia Hart.
“California holds all its utilities completely responsible for any fire that happens under their lines, whether they did anything wrong or not,” former Sacramento City Councilmember Rob Fong says in one commercial, overlayed by montages of smoky, red hot hillsides.
“The wildfires make it incredibly difficult for people to invest in California,” Hart adds.
Yet after the minute-long commercial rolls to a stop, BRITE’s logo — not a single utility’s — asks Californians to take action to up the state’s climate resiliency and upgrade emergency response systems, as well as change how utilities are held accountable.
PG&E shares plunged after Cal Fire blamed the power company’s equipment for the wildfires which devastated Wine Country in October. Forty-four people were killed, as the fires destroyed 8,900 structures and 6,100 autos. Nearly $10 billion in commercial and residential insurance claims have been tallied by the state, and as many as 200 lawsuits have been filed against PG&E from 2,700 plaintiffs.
Many have been quick to see the connection.
“It’s nothing more than a name to put on the end of a television commercial other than PG&E,” Jamie Court, president of the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s as phony as they come.”
Two of the coalition’s chief goals, as listed on their website are reforming “the liability without fault standard for inverse condemnation” and ensuring that utilities are held responsible only when they’ve “acted imprudently and that imprudence was a significant contributing cause of the wildfire.”
The ads are just one part of coalition’s full throttle approach to easing the blame placed on utilities. Earlier this week, the group held a rally in Sacramento at the state Capitol. PG&E has also spent months lobbying for these same changes to state law.
Already, a series of laws have been proposed. Last month, Governor Jerry Brown laid out a bill that would ease wildfire financial burdens on PG&E and California’s utilities, though it would not be applied retroactively.
Fighting against BRITE’s California policy efforts is an advocacy group spearheaded by some of the lawyers and homeowners suing PG&E, dubbed Up from the Ashes and found at holdpgeaccountable.com. Another led by the insurance industry is called Stop the Utility Bailout.