By THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE EDITORIAL BOARDJUNE 24, 2019 3:01 PM
Gov. Gavin Newsom generated incredulity in April when he said long-dawdling state lawmakers must lead the policy debate on dealing with the vast cost of wildfires. He said leaving out his “personal opinions” would make it easier to find solutions.
Thankfully, it’s dawned on Newsom that leaders should, you know, lead. On Friday, he called for creation of a $21 billion fund to help pay for the costs of future wildfires — not the ones that drove Pacific Gas & Electric into bankruptcy in January. The costs would be divided equally by shareholders and ratepayers of PG&E, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. The impact on ratepayers would be muted by the fact that their share would be covered by a $2.50 monthly surcharge that’s been on bills since 2002 that was supposed to expire in 2020. It would be extended through 2035.
Embers blow in the wind as the Camp Fire burns a KFC restaurant on Nov. 8, 2018 in Paradise, California.
Newsom’s proposal would also for the first time going forward shield utilities from damages and claims if their infrastructure caused wildfires — so long as state regulators concluded that a utility acted “prudently” in maintaining its equipment. In a hot, dry era in which hugely destructive blazes are a yearly event, it may well be necessary to weaken the old “inverse condemnation”standard under which utilities were responsible when their equipment caused fires under any circumstances. But in California, the largest utility — PG&E — has such an awful record that its safety claims can’t be trusted.
This complicates a difficult issue. But it’s no excuse for more dawdling. Lawmakers should take up Newsom’s constructive plan as soon as possible.