It's been almost eighteen months since the last of the big - and highly anomalous - California fires. True to form, the state's principal utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has taken the fall according to this story shared by G.B.:
As the article indicates, the New York Times reported that PG&E has pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of 84 people during the Paradise fire.
But there's more:
In addition to the guilty plea, the California Public Utilities Commission separately fined PG&E almost $2 billion for its negligence in causing the wildfire. What's more, the company could face additional penalties because its guilty plea represents a violation of a federal probation order placed on the company from a 2010 transformer explosion which started a fire that killed 8 people. The federal judge, William H. Alsup, has the power to impose new penalties on the company for violating its probation, according to the NYT.
As it exits bankruptcy, the company has agreed to pay $13.5 billion to settle claims related to the wildfires (it initially declared bankruptcy last January to try and avoid getting whacked with a massive judgment in the ballpark of $30 billion (or at least that's what the company feared at the time).
About half of that number will be paid in the form of company stock, leaving roughly 70,000 wildfire victims owning a little more than 22% of the utility once it leaves bankruptcy.
Ok... let me see if I have this right: the victims of the fires, who have lost property, houses, cars, and perhaps suffered from medical bills or the actual loss of family members or pets, are being paid for their "inconvenience" by shares of stock in the very utility company found guilty of negligence, which company in turn has been heavily and repeatedly fined for said negligence, and whose shares will likely suffer further hits in value.
One has to admit, that's some breathtaking chutzpah, to pay victims in shares of the company doing it to you, and shares whose value is falling even while you're signing over ownership of the stock certificates.
But there's more to this story than meets the eye, and it's largely in what's not being said.
And the hint of that "other side" of the story comes at the very end of the Zero Hedge article:
And so ends another saga of corporate malfeasance and abuse.
Guilty as charged; everyone go home and don't forget to pick up your stock certificates on the way out.
And that's my real problem here. There's not a mention of how the State of California's own policies might have contributed to these disasters, it's all PG&E's fault. More importantly, there's no mention whatsoever of the highly anomalous nature of some of those fires, anomalies which many Californians themselves documented with their cell phones, posting videos on YouTube. With respect to the Paradise fire, for example, the "high-winds-and-broken-power-line" explanation is still being proffered as the be-all and end-all of explanations:
An investigation eventually found that PG&E inadvertently started the fire when a transmission line broke from a nearly-100-year-old Pacific Gas & Electric Tower after years of neglect.
While that might be one cause, anyone who has seem some of the damage caused by the fire - houses burned, shrubs and trees intact, or fires near power connections on homes - cannot come to the conclusion that it's the only cause. And none of this really addressed the previous fires and their anomalies. How do houses burn and metal rims on wheels on cars burn, and nearby trees and shrubbs - exposed to more or less the same ambient heat - do not?
While those might or might not be legitimate questions, they've all been swept aside. The narrative has been adjudicated, the courts have decided, and the "sole perpetrator" has agreed with the narrative and signed off on it. "Here, have some common stock and don't ask any more questions."
Australians, take note...
...See you on the flip side...