Dec 18, 2019

PG&E settles with California regulators as fire victims deal approved

Fire burns near power lines in Montecito, California, Dec. 16, 2017. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) reached a proposed $1.7 billion settlement with state regulators and had a revised $13.5 billion agreement for people impacted by California's fatal 2017 and 2018 wildfires approved Tuesday, AP reports.

Why it matters: The steps mark significant progress for the utility as it seeks to emerge from bankruptcy in the coming months, after Gov. Gavin Newsom rejected its financial rehabilitation plan Friday for falling "woefully short."

  • It also puts the victims closer to being compensated for the fires started by PG&E equipment.

Details: The California Public Utilities Commission said Tuesday under the agreement, PG&E would pay $50 million for shareholder-funded system enhancements "and community engagement initiatives to strengthen its electric operations and maintenance in an effort to mitigate the risk of wildfires."

  • The proposal, which Newsom's lawyer described as "fair," prevents the utility from recovering wildfire-related costs from ratepayers, per Reuters.
  • U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali approved on Tuesday PG&E’s compensation agreement with victims and "a separate $11 billion accord the utility reached earlier with holders of insurance claims," AP notes.

The big picture: PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January, facing an estimated $30 billion in claims. It struck the $13.5 billion settlement with attorneys for the victims of the 2017 and 2018 fires this month.

  • In June, PG&E agreed to a $1 billion settlement with a group of public entities for its involvement in the deadly wildfires dating back to 2015.
  • The California Public Utilities Commission launched an investigation into PG&E in late October over a series of power shutoffs, which affected millions, aiming to prevent the spread of wildfires during high-wind periods and dry spells.

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U.S. wildfires scorched 4.6 million acres of land in 2019

A firefighter using a drip torch near Somis, California, Nov. 1. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

49,661 wildfires burned 4.6 million acres in the U.S. in 2019, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC).

Why it matters: That's a 46% drop in acres burned and an 11% decrease in total fires from the 2018 season.

Go deeperArrowJan 9, 2020

Audit report: Tokyo Olympics likely to cost more than $12.6 billion

The National Stadium, venue for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

Japan's National Audit Board released a report on Friday suggesting the Tokyo Olympics is likely to cost $9.7 billion in addition to the $12.6 billion that organizers are claiming the event's price tag will be, AP reports.

Why it matters: Only $5.6 billion in private money is allocated to fund the Olympics. The remainder of the funds will come from taxpayers across the country, the city of Tokyo and other government bodies, according to AP.

Go deeperArrowDec 21, 2019

Thousands protest for climate action in Australia as fires ravage continent

Participants hold placards as they take part in a demonstration demanding the government take immediate action against climate change in Sydney on Jan. 10. Photo: Mohammad Farooq/Getty Images

Thousands of protesters took to the streets across Australia on Friday, calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to resign for what they call inaction on climate change and an inadequate response to the bush fire crisis that has scorched the continent, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Morrison's stance on climate-related issues has come under scrutiny throughout the deadly wildfire season. In particular, his "reputation as a coal advocate has not helped as he has struggled to project empathy for victims of the fires," the Post writes.

Go deeperArrowJan 10, 2020