Fifty Organizations Urge Governor Newsom to Support Public Takeover of PG&E



By Dan Bacher | 

Sacramento - As support for a public takeover of PG&E continues to build in California, 50 organizations, joined by former PUC President Loretta Lynch, sent a letter to Gov. Newsom on November 14 demanding a public takeover of the company as a step towards holding accountable a “rogue utility” that is now in bankruptcy proceedings.

The groups blasted the investor-owned utility for paying out dividends and executive bonuses, rather than investing in maintenance and infrastructure, as the convicted felon has shut off power to millions of people and has been found responsible for starting hundreds of wildfires. 

The letter states, “We urge you to facilitate a public takeover of PG&E to protect ratepayers, California communities, and our climate. PG&E has shut off power to millions of residents, been found responsible for starting numerous wildfires that have killed Californians, destroyed homes, neighborhoods and whole towns, and cost billions of dollars. This devastation is the result of PG&E’s decision to neglect maintenance and investments in infrastructure in favor of paying out billions in shareholder profits and executive pay.”

The call for a public takeover takes place after PG&E spent $$2,198,222 on lobbying the Legislature, Governor’s Office and other state officials and regulators in the first three quarters of 2019 — and after spending nearly $10 million on lobbying in Sacramento last year. 

In a report on Monday, November 11, the Washington Post revealed that over the past two decades Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, "have accepted more than $700,000 from the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., its foundation, and its employees as the utility has supported his political campaigns, his ballot initiatives, his inauguration festivities and his wife’s foundation, including her film projects."  

Despite receiving all of this money from PG&E, the Governor has slammed the utility at press conferences and in his public statements. For example, in a press conference on October 29, Governor Newsom said, “PG&E simply cannot take ‘10 years’ to ‘get their act together.’

“Their years and years of greed and mismanagement are OVER. These mass power shutoffs are UNACCEPTABLE,” said Newsom.  

The groups challenged Gov. Newsom to match his “fiery rhetoric criticizing PG&E with bold action.” They say that “rather than looking to swap one corporate board for another, the governor should put forward a plan for public power options.” 

In the letter, the groups wrote, “At a recent press conference, you implored PG&E to fundamentally change the way it operates and raised the prospect of a public takeover as a backup option. However, given PG&E’s track record and the benefits of public power, public ownership should be plan A. If you are really interested in ushering California into a safe, reliable, renewable energy future, you should immediately move forward with exploring public power options that complement existing public models like municipal utilities and Community Choice energy programs.”

Representatives of key organizations signing on to the letter explained the many benefits of a public takeover of PG&E.

“Public power would provide greater transparency and accountability, giving ratepayers more of a say in utility investments and priorities,” said Food & Water Action California State Director Alexandra Nagy. “The public would have an increased ability to advocate for investments in fire safety and local clean energy that would benefit ratepayers and the climate. In contrast to PG&E’s negligence, the Los Angeles municipally-owned utility just approved a historic  project that will provide clean solar energy and battery storage to more than 280,000 homes.”    

The Local Clean Energy Alliance emphasized the need to replace the investor-owned utility with one that “puts the interests of communities and ratepayers first.” 

"Newsom's efforts to shore up PG&E demonstrate the need for an alternative, public energy model, one that focuses on community-based control of energy, where the interests of low-income people and communities of color—rather than corporate shareholders—are prioritized,” said Jessica Tovar, Energy Democracy Organizer, Local Clean Energy Alliance.  

The California Nurses Association also called on Governor Newsom to “keep public health and safety at the forefront of his decisions.”

“PG&E would be in prison, if it were a citizen, given how many people have died at its hands. We need Governor Newsom to take the utility’s failures more seriously than ever before as we push for a new direction that centers public health and safety and a concentration on more municipal power,” said Zenei Cortez, RN Co-President  of the California Nurses Association. 

The groups join Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna and other elected officials who are calling for a public takeover. 

“When you have a state that has Apple, Google and Tesla in it, there’s no excuse for not getting power to our people,” said Khanna. “I’m calling on Gov. Newsom to support turning PG&E into a customer-owned utility.  We need to have more municipal public utilities providing energy.”

“We need state and federal investment in smart micro-grids with distributed power generation. We also need more federal resources in the state to deal with wildfires. California needs to be bold and take over PG&E,” Khanna concluded.

As bankruptcy proceedings for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company continued and the utility sought rate increases, the embattled utility increased its spending on lobbying in the third quarter of 2019.

The investor-owned utility, the largest one in California, spent a total of $1,321,777, including $945,095 on general lobbying and $376,382 on PUC lobbying, from July 1 to September 30, according to forms PG&E filed with the California Secretary of State on October 31.

PG&E said it spent the money lobbying on an array of legislation, including the Wildfire Victim Recovery Bond legislation, Wildfire Risk Mitigation (Generators), Wildfire Issues and Wildfire Revenue Bond Proposal.

The increase in spending took place after PG&E spent $876,445 on lobbying from January 1 to June 30 of this year. The utility engaged in this intense lobbying as it was cutting off power to millions of people and while wildfires ravaged the state over the past few weeks. The total of lobbying expenses by PG&E this year to date amounts to $2,198,222.

The $2,198,222 was effectively spent, since in July the California Legislature passed AB 1054, described by Food & Water Watch as a “far-reaching bailout for investor-owned utilities.” Governor Gavin Newsom, in spite of many environmental and public interest groups urging him not to do so, signed the bill.

The legislature also passed Senate Bill 209 that establishes a state-run weather center to help predict wildfire threats

The utility spent the money on both “general lobbying” and PUC lobbying in both the first and second quarters, as it did in the third quarter.

All of this money that PG&E spent on lobbying for AB 1054 and other legislation impacting PG&E, along with massive campaign contributions to legislators and over $200,000 to Governor Newsom’s campaign, helped to ensure that the controversial legislation passed and that Newsom signed it.

“PG&E donated millions to California politicians after it was convicted in 2016 of 6 federal felonies connected to the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed 8 people,” reported ABC10 as part of the ABC10 Originals project FIRE - POWER - MONEY, a documentary series that breaks down California’s wildfire crisis into its core elements.  

ABC10 said the Republican and Democratic parties of California each took more than $500,000 from PG&E.

Ninety-eight legislators, the majority of sitting State Senators and Assemblymembers, received more than $548,005 from PG&E in the last election cycle, according to ABC10.

Former PUC President Loretta Lynch compared AB 1054 to Enron’s successful efforts to undo ratepayer protections in 2000.

Last year, Pacific Gas & Electric dumped $9,580,357 into general lobbying, including total payments to in-house staff lobbyists and lobbying firms, along with paying for meals and other items for legislators. PG&E even surpassed the Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, in lobbying expenses in 2018.

PG&E also spent $349,522 on lobbying the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the regulatory agency that regulates privately owned public utilities in the state, including electric power, telecommunications, natural gas and water companies.

The company spent the most money in the seventh quarter of the 2017-2018 session, dumping $6,111,332 into general lobbying and $168,668 into lobbying the CPUC. This is one of the largest amounts of money spent on lobbying by any organization in one quarter




Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2019. All right reserved.










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