WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) – From Australia to California, recent wildfires have become more devastating and more deadly.
On Tuesday, a congressional committee explored ways to slow them down and to make sure California’s public utilities were held accountable for their roles in starting fires.
“California’s indeed ground zero for these issues,” Bill Johnson said.
Pacific Gas & Electric’s CEO Bill Johnson once again fielded questions from Congress about the utility’s role in California’s recent wildfires.
“Climate change will continue to increase the intensity of the environmental conditions contributing to wildfire,” Johnson said.
Johnson took responsibility for PG&E’s faulty power lines, which sparked devastating and deadly fires. But he says the greatest future risk comes from climate change.
“Seven years ago, about 15% of PG&E’s service area was designated as having elevated fire risk. Today, that number is over 50% and is growing,” Johnson said.
While Johnson and every committee member who spoke said climate change is a major part of the problem, they acknowledged there are steps they can take to mitigate that risk.
Johnson mentioned new warning technology, rebuilding stronger lines and the controversial, strategic blackouts.
“Now, this plan is working in reducing the risk of catastrophic fires. Last year, there was no loss of life,” Johnson said.
“He said he expects rolling blackouts in California to be the new normal for the next 10 years and that’s simply unacceptable,” Representative Josh Harder, D-California, said.
Congressman Josh Harder criticized PG&E for not investing enough in improving its aged infrastructure.
“My colleagues were focusing on forest management instead of just the usual drivel about climate change,” Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-California, said.
LaMalfa agrees infrastructure is important but says the state needs to take more responsibility for mismanaging the forests.