PG&E objects to judge’s proposals to prevent wildfires

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pushed back Friday on a U.S. judge’s revised proposals to prevent the utility’s equipment from causing more wildfires, saying it could not “monitor every tree at every moment of every day” to ensure they don’t pose a threat to its electric lines in violation of California laws.

Judge William Alsup earlier this month proposed requiring the company to fully comply with all vegetation management and clearance laws as part of its probation in a criminal case. Alsup called the utility’s efforts to prevent trees from hitting its power lines and starting wildfires dismal.

That requirement would likely result in probation violations because tree conditions are constantly changing, PG&E said in a court filing.

“A tree that was compliant at the time of a prior inspection might become a non-compliant hazard tree one day later when it is damaged by a natural or man-made event or three months later after a bark beetle infestation has taken hold,” attorneys for the company said.

Alsup should also leave assessments of PG&E’s compliance with vegetation management laws to state law enforcement officials and regulators, the attorneys said.

PG&E also objected to Alsup’s proposal to ban it from paying dividends to shareholders until it meets his vegetation management requirements. The company said that requirement would substantially hamper its ability to raise money from investors, which in turn would affect its safety efforts.

The company has already suspended dividends and said it will not pay any at least until it emerges from bankruptcy.

The company sought bankruptcy protection in January in the face of billions of dollars in potential liability from recent wildfires.

Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion that killed eight people in the San Francisco Bay Area. The judge’s proposals follow devastating wildfires in California in 2017 and 2018 — some of which investigators have blamed on PG&E equipment. Alsup has said his goal is to prevent PG&E equipment from causing any wildfires during the 2019 fire season.

He initially proposed ordering PG&E to undertake more drastic measures, including removing or trimming all trees that could fall on its power lines and cutting off power during certain wind conditions.

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