PG&E Still Faces 33 Criminal Charges After $43.4 Million Settlement

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) still has to contend with 33 criminal charges after agreeing Wednesday to pay $43.4 million to three Northern California counties, where an unmaintained power grid contributed to wildfires over the past two years.

The settlement funds will go to 10 government agencies in the Sonoma, Shasta and Tehama counties, where the Kincade and Zogg Fires wreaked havoc.

PG&E's remaining charges, all of which the company denies, address the public health endangerment caused by the Kincade Fire and resulting injuries sustained by six firefighters.

The Shasta County District Attorney's office may also be able to file criminal charges after the state of California delivered a report on PG&E's involvement in the Zogg Fire.

PG&E is the electricity provider for approximately 16 million people in the affected counties, but the company's deteriorating equipment and power lines have created hardship for residents over the past few years. Wildfires caused by PG&E equipment in 2017 and 2018 destroyed over 28,000 buildings and killed over 100 people, leading to another $13.8 billion settlement and the company pleading guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

California Wildfires
Firefighters set a backfire to protect homes and try to contain the Blue Ridge Fire on October 27, 2020 in Chino Hills, California. More than 8,200 wildfires have burned across a record 4 million-plus acres so far this year, more than double the previous record. PG&E still faces 33 criminal charges after the company's neglected power grid contributed to the Kincade and Zogg Fires in three Northern California counties. David McNew/Getty Images

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After emerging from bankruptcy protection last summer, PG&E hired a new chief executive, Patricia "Patti" Poppe, to oversee its efforts to upgrade its grid during process expected to last for most of this decade and, in this case, clean up some of its past messes.

"When I joined PG&E earlier this year, I said that I wanted to make it right and make it safe for our customers and communities," Poppe said.

Even so, PG&E continues to be haunted by its conduct before Poppe started her job in January.

California power regulators last month rebuked PG&E for ongoing neglect of its power lines last year. And the utility is scheduled to appear next week before a federal judge weighing whether its role in the Kindcade Fire violated its probation terms for a criminal conviction that came down after its natural gas lines below up a suburban neighborhood south of San Francisco in 2010.

PG&E Firefighter in Fairfield, CA
A Pacific Gas and Electric firefighter walks down a road as flames approach in Fairfield, California during the LNU Lightning Complex fire on August 19, 2020. - Thousands of people fled their homes in northern California on August 19 as hundreds of fast-moving wildfires spread across the region, burning houses and leading to the death of a helicopter pilot. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images