SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — There is pushback after news that Pacific Gas and Electric will not face criminal charges for causing the Kincade and Dixie fires.
The utility giant instead agreed to pay out tens of millions to the counties that were affected by the wildfires, but a coalition of fire victim advocates is not happy with the agreement.
PG&E’s new Get Out of Jail Free card is hardly free, but Butte County resident Mary Kay Benson said it may as well be.
“For six counties to get $55 million dollars over five years, to me and others is a pittance,” Benson said. “That’s chicken feed for PG&E.”
Benson is an advocate for disaster survivors and people experiencing homelessness. More and more in Butte County, Benson said those two groups are becoming one and the same.
“Thirty percent of our homeless in Chico are fire survivors,” she said.
She and the Reclaim Our Power: Utility Justice Campaign have slammed the new PG&E settlement that was announced Monday. The company admitted fault for causing the Kincade and Dixie fires.
Critics said the agreement between the power provider and six Northern California district attorneys does not hold the utility accountable for what they call a record of bad behavior.
“Of the 117 people that have died in wildfire disasters caused by PG&E, 100 are from Butte County. No one has gone to jail, and we think many should go to jail,” Benson said. “If this was a serial killer, that was a person, they would definitely be in jail for the rest of their life. Because it’s a corporation, there seems to be no accountability.”
“A corporation can’t go to jail or prison,” said Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister.
Hollister said it became clear to him early on that criminal prosecution for the Dixie Fire would not be the most helpful to victims and counties. He pointed to Butte County’s successful criminal prosecution of PG&E for the 2018 Dixie Fire that killed 85 people.
“Eighty-five felony convictions and what did end up with? They ended up with a fine of less than $4 million, of which Butte County kept 30%. No probation, no fixes,” Hollister said. “And in fact, three years later, less than 10 miles from the start of the Camp Fire, the Dixie Fire started.”
The civil settlement directs PG&E to send direct payments to homeowners, renters and counties within three months.
“If it streamlines it and it gets money into the pockets of the people most affected by the Dixie Fire, of course, we would be happy about that. We just don’t believe it will happen like that,” Benson said.
Benson’s skepticism is strengthened every week as she takes water and mobile showers to encampments, hearing stories of people who lost their homes in the 2018 Camp Fire and are still awaiting promised restitution from PG&E. So when it comes to trading criminal charges for promises of faster money, she isn’t hopeful.
“We have good reason to not believe,” Benson said.
In a statement, PG&E said, “We are committed to doing our part, and we look forward to a long partnership with these communities to make right and make it safe.”