PG&E Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter for Camp Fire Deaths

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California utility PG&E is officially pleading guilty to manslaughter charges stemming from the devastating Camp Fire in 2018. An announcement issued by the utility stated that it had reached a plea argument with the Butte County District Attorney in a case that dealt with the deadliest wildfire in California history. 

The company is pleading guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawfully starting a fire. Outdated infrastructure, poorly maintained equipment, and downed power lines were what sparked the fires that raged through the town of Paradise and the surrounding communities of Butte County. 

“Our equipment started the fire,” PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said in a company statement. “Those are the facts, and with this plea agreement, we accept responsibility for our role in the fire. We cannot change the devastation or ever forget the loss of life that occurred. All of us at PG&E deeply regret this tragedy and the company’s part in it.”

In the aftermath, the California utility filed for bankruptcy, and caused further controversy last year when it tried to avoid further wildfires by shutting off power to hundreds of thousands of Californians. These blackouts were meant to protect vulnerable power lines from strong wings, but the move ended up causing hardship for families, public infrastructure, and residents who had critical care equipment that required constant power. 

PG&E has already paid out historic sums in settlements with victims from the CampFire, totaling nearly $25.5 billion. This latest plea agreement comes with $4 million in fines and expenses, and secures PG&E the right of not having any more criminal charges filed against it by the county. 

It also calls for several changes to be made at the highest levels of leadership within PGE. The agreement approved by the state includes an overhaul of the utilities leadership structure. Going forward, the company’s board must now include California residents, and an independent firm will be brought in to select new directors as well. If all goes well, PG&E will be in a position to be well-equipped for the next wildfire season. 

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