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Bail Out Or Necessary Step? Debating The Wildfire-Related Utility Fund Bill




Flames burn near power lines in Montecito, Calif. State fire officials say power lines coming into contact with trees sparked four Northern California wildfires last October.
Flames burn near power lines in Montecito, Calif. State fire officials say power lines coming into contact with trees sparked four Northern California wildfires last October.
Mike Eliason/AP

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Governor Newsom has been pushing Assembly Bill 1054 to create a $21 billion wildfire fund to help utilities cover fire-related liabilities. 

Half of that money will be taken from ratepayers, which opponents of the legislation say is an unfair burden to place on customers. They argue the focus should be on ensuring that utilities maintain their equipment, rather than diminishing their monetary liability. 

There will be certain parameters set up around how utilities can access the funds.

Pacific Gas & Electric is currently going through federal bankruptcy proceedings and Governor Newsom has argued that not doing anything will hurt customers most. Critics have called the bill a bail-out for utility companies.  

Credit ratings agencies said they might lower the investment grades of San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison if the California legislature isn’t able to pass the legislation by Friday, which is why the legislation has been top of mind this week. 

We hear the pros and cons of the legislation.

Guests:

Taryn Luna, reporter covering state government and politics in Sacramento for the LA Times

Jan Smutny-Jones, chief executive officer of California’s Independent Energy Producers Association, which is a member of Action for Wildfire Resiliency, a lobbying coalition of electrical workers and other business and community groups, formed by Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)

Michael Aguirre, attorney at Aguirre & Severson, LLP in San Diego; he represents utility customers in a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court