PG&E makes $3.6 million settlement with Hinkley, its second in 20 years

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Water regulators in San Bernardino County have slapped Pacific Gas & Electric with a $3.6 million dollar settlement in the town whose toxic pollution woes inspired the film “Erin Brockovich.”

PG&E has already famously paid $333 million dollars to end a lawsuit brought by Hinckley residents about 15 years ago, when toxic chromium the utility used on equipment seeped into the water table. But now, monitoring has revealed that the pollution plume had spread, according to Lauri Kemper of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

"PG&E has done a lot of efforts to clean it up and stop its movement," she acknowledges. "But they didn’t do enough. And so we have a situation where they have a thousand days of contamination spread essentially [...] beyond the area where they promised the board they would control it."

PG&E admits no wrongdoing in the new agreement, but the utility will install new wells and other controls in the next month. It will also pay a $1.8 million fine. And it will spend an equal amount of money improving the water supply at Hinckley Elementary School.

"It’ a pretty small community and the school is the heartbeat," says PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith.

The utility proposed the school project, he says, in part because it recognized a need to ease residents’ fears.

"We took a good look at Hinkley," he sums up, "and what we began to do was to try and take steps to build that relationship and improve that trust."

The settlement is just the latest in a long line of legal obligations imposed on PG&E to clean up the chromium problem the town.

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