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California drops Gov. Jerry Brown's wildfire utility liability protection plan

Posted: 7:47 AM, Aug 19, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-19 14:48:51Z

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers are abandoning a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown to shield electrical utilities from some financial liability for wildfires. For now.

There's not enough time to settle the contentious and complex issues involved before the legislative session ends Aug. 31, Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd  told  the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday.

"It was a tough fight ... so we are pivoting," said Dodd, co-chairman of the legislative conference committee on wildfire preparedness and response.

Brown's proposal would have let judges decide how much utilities pay when their equipment causes wildfires. It would have softened a legal standard that generally holds them entirely responsible for the costs of fires triggered by their power lines or other infrastructure.

Current California law holds utilities responsible for damage from fires ignited by their equipment even if they have followed safety rules.

Those who want to change the law fear utilities could go bankrupt or significantly raise prices for California residents as climate change makes wildfires even more severe.

Lawmakers raised concerns about Brown's plan at an Aug. 9 hearing on the proposal. They said it would give utility companies too much protection without ensuring they safely maintain equipment.

The issue was raised last fall when Pacific Gas and Electric Co. launched a lobbying campaign with other big utility companies to change the system.

It's unlikely they'll drop their fight but they will lose a key ally in Brown, whose term ends in January.