Utility bill: Bauer-Kahan, Glazer co-author legislation to hold power companies accountable

by Julia Baum / Pleasanton Weekly

Assembly Bill 2356 would empower local district attorneys to act against electrical corporations

Tri-Valley lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow the state and local prosecutors to take action against electric power companies that fail to comply with safety regulations.

Known as "The Utility Accountability and Wildfire Prevention Act of 2020," Assembly Bill 2356 was authored by Tri-Valley Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) and Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), among other state officials, to give local authorities the same enforcement mechanisms that are employed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

The bill is based on the enforcement authority of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, which shares power with local district attorneys to move against companies and individuals who neglect safety precautions. Currently, only the CPUC has authority to bring action against electricity corporations that violate state safety regulations.

"This bill in no way diminishes the primary responsibility or authority of the CPUC to enforce and take action against electrical companies," Bauer-Kahan said in a statement. "This bill simply adds the attorney general and district attorneys to the enforcement team so they can act to protect and ensure the safety of Californians against utilities that have a long track record of neglecting our safety."

In October, PG&E conducted a series of statewide Public Safety Power Shutoffs, sometimes for days, in an attempt to prevent wildfires caused by faulty equipment in high-risk areas, knocking out power for up to three million Californians.

The state "must do all we can to force PG&E to run an electricity grid that protects lives and property from wildfires when the wind blows," Glazer said. "This bill gives California a new tool to keep us safe."

Representatives partly attributed climate change to the impacts of the deadly wildfires that have burned large swaths of the state and killed dozens of people, but said "there is no doubt that decades of utility companies' mismanagement, and their refusal to put the safety of the public over profits, is also to blame."

"Our state is facing dire circumstances. Four of the five largest wildfires in California's history have happened in the past seven years," Bauer-Kahan added. "The devastating loss of loved ones, homes and in some cases, entire communities must not be endured again. By empowering local jurisdictions to enforce existing safety regulations, we aim to stop the next disaster before it starts."

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley's comments echoed Bauer-Kahan and Glazer.

"California must face the reality that climate change will continue to pose massive threats of wildfires throughout the state. We cannot afford to be complacent," O'Malley said. "As district attorneys, our job is to ensure the safety of our communities. This legislation gives us the tools to prevent further catastrophic loss of life and property by ensuring utility companies abide by the laws."