Protesters calling for the public takeover of PG&E shut down a California Public Utilities Commission meeting in San Francisco Thursday morning in an act of civil disobedience.
Following the public comment portion of the meeting, at which a dozen or so protesters spoke about PG&E’s safety record and its role in wildfires in 2017 and 2018, demonstrators began loudly chanting and holding up a banner to prevent the meeting from continuing.
California Highway Patrol officers escorted several protesters from the auditorium. One person had to be dragged from the room, although no arrests were made.
“We need the public to be in control of the utilities, not these profiteers who don’t give a damn about the people they’re killing in California,” Steve Zeltzer of United Public Workers for Action said during public comment. “Utility executives should be in jail for what they’ve done. They’ve lied to the people of California…and they continue to kill people.”
Another speaker pointed out that the 2016 Ghost Ship fire – the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history, killing 36 people – resulted in criminal prosecutions, but many more people have died in wildfires in recent years.
Cal Fire investigations of the deadly fires that devastated towns in Northern California in 2017 found that 16 were caused by PG&E’s equipment and transmission lines. The cause of other fires in the region, including the most recent Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, have not yet been determined, although many speculate PG&E is to blame there, too.
PG&E was also found responsible for a 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed 8 people and injured many more.
“People across northern California were forced to endure the smoke from this fire for two weeks.” said Esther Goolsby, an organizer for Communities for a Better Environment. “Particularly vulnerable were black, brown and low-income communities, who face the brunt of the Bay Area’s pollution every day.”
After the meeting resumed, CPUC ordered PG&E to implement safety recommendations outlined in a report from the agency’s Safety and Enforcement Division.
“The CPUC initiated this proceeding after the pipeline explosion in San Bruno occurred to determine whether PG&E has an adequate safety culture,” said CPUC President Michael Picker. “Sadly, the events of September 9, 2010, continue to echo today.”
Picker said PG&E still did not appear to have a clear vision for safety. He said he would open a “new phase in this proceeding” to examine their corporate governance and to determine “the best path forward for Northern California to receive safe electrical and natural gas service.”
In a written statement, PG&E said it agrees with all of the safety recommendations.
“We’ve implemented the majority of the recommendations already, and are on track to implement many more within the next year,” PG&E spokesperson Jennifer Robison said.