The Wall Street Journal’s epic takedown with the headline "PG&E Knew for Years Its Lines Could Spark Wildfires, and Didn’t Fix Them" is no longer behind a subscription paywall (for the first click, at least), and the article has now taken center stage at the utility’s safety trial in federal court.
Embattled and bankrupt utility company PG&E faced an unusual demand from U.S. District Judge William Alsup in their ongoing Camp Fire trial: the company was ordered to issue a paragraph-by-paragraph response to a July 10 Journal exposé that detailed how PG&E knew they had faulty and outdated transmission systems, and simply ignored these problems so they could profligately spend money on bonuses and political contributions. That response came Wednesday in court, and the San Francisco Chronicle reports that PG&E is basically disputing all of the Journal’s allegations.
“PG&E denies the generalized assertion that it repeatedly failed to perform the necessary upgrades to prevent failures on its transmission lines,” their attorneys wrote in a 37-page response. “The suggestion that PG&E has ignored investment in its transmission lines is inaccurate.”
That’s not what the Wall Street Journal reported last month when they said that PG&E “has long been aware that parts of its 18,500-mile transmission system were dangerously outdated.” And the paper stuck to its guns.
“The Journal’s article on PG&E was deeply sourced and thoroughly reported,” a spokesperson for publisher Dow Jones said in a statement. “Company officials were given ample opportunity to respond in advance of publication. Their lawyers have strained to no avail to challenge our article, which we stand behind fully.”
The Journal also noted Wednesday following PG&E's courtroom denials that the company "acknowledged in its court filing that it doesn’t know the age of all of its transmission towers and wires, as the Journal’s July 10 article stated. It denied, however, that it has struggled to prioritize which of its lines needed the most attention, saying that it uses data from multiple sources to do so."
PG&E is also under scrutiny for lavish contributions to California lawmakers, as reported by Sacramento’s ABC 10, and doling out a whopping $5 billion in shareholder dividends while knowing that their lines were badly in need of maintenance.
“You can’t say it costs more to run the system than we get from the ratepayers and then say, ‘But we are going to pay profits to investors,’” attorney Mike Danko, who represents wildfire victims in a different PG&E trial, told the Chronicle. “It doesn’t make any sense. It becomes a shell game.”
The Camp Fire blaze in question was the deadliest wildire in California history, killing 85 people and burning more than 150,000 acres.
Image: Justobreathe via Flickr