(AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric pleaded guilty Tuesday to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter for a wildfire that wiped out most of a Northern California town called Paradise.
The nation’s largest utility took responsibility for the death and destruction caused by its history of neglect and greed.
The hearing comes nearly three months after PG&E reached a plea agreement in the November 2018 fire.
PG&E CEO Bill Johnson acknowledged that the fire that destroyed Paradise was ignited by PG&E's rickety electrical grid and apologized to the victims.
The company has agreed to pay a $3.5 million fine and $500,000 for the criminal investigation.
PG&E issued the following statement in court:
“I am here today on behalf of the 23,000 men and women of PG&E, to accept responsibility for the fire here that took so many lives and changed these communities forever.
I have heard the pain and the anguish of victims as they’ve described the loss they continue to endure, and the wounds that can’t be healed. No words from me could ever reduce the magnitude of such devastation or do anything to repair the damage. But I hope that the actions we are taking here today will help bring some measure of peace.
Our equipment started the fire that destroyed the towns of Paradise and Concow and severely burned Magalia and other parts of Butte County. That fire took the lives of 85 people. Thousands lost their homes and businesses, and many others were forced to evacuate under horrific circumstances.
I wish there were some way to take back what happened or take away the pain of those who’ve suffered. But I know there’s not.
What I can say is this: First, PG&E will never forget the Camp Fire and all that it took from this region. We remain deeply, deeply sorry for the terrible devastation we have caused.
Second, since the Camp Fire, we have worked side-by-side with Butte County residents and public officials to help the Paradise region recover and rebuild. That work continues today, and we are doing everything we can to make things right.
Third, we are working hard to get the victims compensated. With our Plan of Reorganization on track to be approved by June 30, their wait may finally be nearing an end. In fact, the Bankruptcy Court has concluded confirmation hearings regarding our Plan. This should be one of the final steps toward paying the $25.5 billion in settlements we’ve reached with wildfire victims, Butte County agencies and others.
Finally, I want to reiterate to the Court and all of the people of the Paradise region that the lessons PG&E learned from the Camp Fire are being taken to heart and are driving comprehensive changes currently underway at PG&E.
We are intently focused on reducing the risk of wildfire in our communities. We have improved our inspection and operational protocols. We are hardening our energy system and making it more resilient. We have incorporated advanced technology to better predict and detect extreme weather conditions. All of this, and more, is being done to help make sure the tragedy that occurred here never happens again, in any of the communities we serve.
In closing, I want to reiterate that on behalf of PG&E, I apologize for the pain we have caused. We know we cannot replace all that the fire destroyed. We do hope that by pleading guilty and accepting accountability, by compensating victims and supporting rebuilding efforts, and by making significant, lasting changes in the way we operate, we can honor those who were lost and help this community move forward.
Your Honor, we make this plea with sadness and regret—and with eyes open to what happened, and to what we must do to make things right.”