California wildfires

Corporations' bankruptcy dodge

Illustration of a dollar bill as a flag being lowered and then raised as a white flag of surrender.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you're an executive who doesn't feel like making tough decisions about corporate priorities — like PG&E's potential climate liabilities or Citgo's Venezuela ties — there's always an alternative: file for bankruptcy.

My thought bubble: These problems are not what America's bankruptcy regime was designed to solve. Bankruptcy is messy and expensive; what's more, judges don't tend to make great corporate executives. But it's easy to see why an executive holding a hot potato might be tempted to pass it on to someone — anyone — else.

California utility PG&E files for bankruptcy protection

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California’s largest utility PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday, expecting to face liability costs from its potential role in deadly wildfires across the state. The filing marks a significant milestone for corporations being forced to reckon with the consequences of climate change.

The backdrop: The company said it planned to file for bankruptcy protection earlier this month. Over the last few weeks, it maintained that the filing was necessary despite being cleared of fault for the 2017 Tubbs wildfire, which would lower potential liability costs. It also faced threats of a proxy battle from major shareholder BlueMountain Capital Management and a $4 billion proposal from a consortium of investors to help the company remain solvent. PG&E asked the court for access to the $5 billion debtor-in-possession financing to keep up services throughout the bankruptcy process.

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