Emergency Action! – Stop PG&E’s decimation of our trees to line their shareholders’ pockets!

Action #1: CALL & EMAIL TODAY! The vote on SB-396 is now on Wednesday, 3/16. We have little time to stop this!

Apologies for the late notice, but it took experts time to understand the implications of SB-396 Forestry: electrical transmission or distribution lines: clearances: notice and opportunity to be heard. Call your assemblymember first thing on Monday and email his/her/their inboxes OVER THE WEEKEND! Your email can use the script here, or borrow some or all of the Indivisible CA Green Team’s letter below.

Minimal call script: I’m calling from [zip code] and I want Assemblymember [___] to vote “NO” on SB-396, another PG&E profit-grab for their shareholders at the expense of the people, wildlife and habitat threatened by fire and our dangerously warming climate.

Contact:

  • State Assemblymember Steve Bennett (CA-37): email, SAC (916) 319-2037, SB (805) 564-1649, VTA (805) 641-3700
  • State Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (CA-44): email, SAC (916) 319-2044, CAM (805) 482-1904, OX (805) 483-4488
  • Not your people? Don’t know?: findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov

Action #2: Fire and Ice – history shows that people die when investor-owned utility companies cut corners.

Minimal script: Governor Newsom, you signed SB-350, giving our state the authority to hold PG&E accountable if the company fails to adhere to public safety policies, and to put safety, reliability and its customers at the center of its business model. PG&E has already failed us two times and it’s time you pulled the plug on them.

First, they are attempting to destroy our rooftop solar industry, bizarrely using racism as an excuse to profit from increased dirty electricity demand, which will “raise air pollution death rates in California above the 12,000 per year who perish in the state already. Most of these additional deaths will be in poor communities in the Los Angeles basin and Central Valley, where pollution levels are already the highest in the state.”

Now, this corporation, whose executives are immune from imprisonment despite being convicted of involuntary manslaughter and felony charges, is pushing SB-396, which enshrines their unscientific gaslighting into law – reassigning blame for damage caused by their elderly transmission equipment to the trees that cool our climate and empede the creation of fire wind tunnels. The reasons are obvious – they get reimbursed by us, the taxpayers, for tree “maintenance”, while upgrading their equipment and undergrounding cables as recommended by experts would come out of their profits and upset their shareholders.

Governor Newsom, the nation watched in horror as privately-owned utility companies that refused to invest in winterizing upgrades caused hundreds of Texans to die. Meanwhile, we see the same pattern with PG&E, as fire after fire decimate our communities and kill our residents. Gaslighting legislation such as SB-396 and their anti-solar campaign prove that PG&E has no intention of putting safety, reliability and its customers at the center of its business model. It is time you pulled the plug on this criminal enterprise and turned PG&E into a publicly owned utility. 

Contact: Governor Gavin Newsom : email, (916) 445-2841

FAQ’s on what’s at stake here

SB-396 would allow private-equity company PG&E to do the following:

  • chop down any Strike Tree along its 25,500 miles of  power lines in High Threat Fire Districts,
  • for any distance – inside or OUTSIDE its Right of Way or legal easement,
  • without review by a qualified expert,
  • without the ability of a property owner to appeal,
  • without compensation for damages.

This is despite science proving:

  • technical advancements in cables and spacers exist NOW that would render wildfires from utility lines a thing of the past
  • clearing trees from along Transmission Lines has been proven to create wind tunnels that spread fire at high rates of speed
  • removing trees creates dryer vegetation under power lines
  • removing trees weakens trees previously sheltered by large trees removed by PG&E’s EVM Program, making them vulnerable to wind throw
  • removing trees contributes to global warming.

Why is PG&E doing the WRONG thing?

  • PG&E is a investor-owned utility with publicly traded stock. Their responsibility is to their shareholders, not to the residents of CA.
  • The cost of tree removal is CONSIDERED MAINTENANCE & CAN BE PASSED ON TO US, the rate payers. PG&E uses trees as an excuse to limit its liability and expenses. An earlier court-ordered tree removal mandate inadvertently reinforced PG&E’s bad science.
  • Equipment upgrades or undergrounding cases are considered capital improvements, reducing PG&E’s profits and shareholder dividends.
  • After decades of infrastructure neglect, PG&E received 6 federal felony convictions and 84 manslaughter convictions for failing to maintain safe and reliable gas and electrical systems. However, as a corporation and not a human, their executives are immune from imprisonment.
  • Despite pleading poverty after their bankruptcy in 2019, forcing victims of the Camp Fire to accept shares of their stock instead of cash, PG&E found millions to spend on influencing CA politics. That money went to a number of legislators, including Republican State Senator Brian Dahle, author of SB-396, who has received in excess of $400,000 from PG&E in upfront and hidden campaign donations for his original State Senate race

Indivisible CA’s letter to assemblymembers.

Dear Assemblymember [___],

            SB396 is an unprecedented attack on private property rights, on responsibilities of State regulatory agencies, and on the California environment. Indivisible California Green Team, the Valley Women’s Club of San Lorenzo Valley, and the state-wide Utility Wildfire Task Force have been working to dispel PG&E’s disingenuous assertion that trees cause wildfires when it has long been recognized that PG&E’s antiquated infrastructure is at fault. Now we must warn you that a deceptive, shrewdly manipulated bill, SB 396, is on the verge of passing in its 3rd reading, and urge that you make every effort to prevent that from happening.

            If  SB 396 is passed, the Assembly will find that is has allowed PG&E to chop down any Strike Tree along its 25,500 miles of  power lines in High Threat Fire Districts, any distance outside its Right of Way or legal easement, without review by a qualified expert, without rational possibility for a property owner to appeal, and without any possibility of compensation for damages. (An “Overstrike Tree” is a tree tall enough to hit a power line.)

            As Public Resource Code, this bill will legalize a taking of private property and negates the meaning of a utility easement on private property or a public Right of Way. An easement must, by law, be “reasonable,” and cannot be “abused” if there are alternatives to an action opposed by the property owner. PG&E has long had superior alternatives to remedy the threat posed by its outdated and dangerous equipment, such as replacing the bare wires with covered conductor but has failed to provide a comprehensive plan or to prioritize doing so. 

            SB 396 is authored by State Senator Brian Dahle, who, according to evidence provided in the Mountain Democrat, had received in excess of $400,000 from PG&E in upfront and hidden campaign donations for his original State Senate race. He is now running for Governor and has a proven record of support for PG&E legislation.

            Many may not be aware that SB 396 will result in clearcutting that exacerbates both wildfire susceptibility and climate change. For example, clearing trees from along Transmission Lines has been proven to create wind tunnels that propel flaming brands, spreading fire at high rates of speed; removing trees creates dryer vegetation under power lines, and weakens trees previously sheltered by large trees removed by PG&E’s EVM Program, making them vulnerable to wind throw. (ref. Sierra Club)

            In 2019, AB 2911 was signed into law to modify Public Resource Code (PRC) 4295 to allow the “operator of electrical ….to remove any trees at their discretion any distance outside their right of way.” Even so, the resultant PRC 4295.5(a)(b) still required the utility to provide Notice, with an undefined “opportunity to be heard,” (4295.5(a)). Also, it clearly declares that the utility is not absolved from damages (4295.5(b)). 

            Disturbingly, SB 396, originally introduced in 2021 and then massively amended, removes those remaining protections. This is hard to recognize because the language appears benign, disguising the fact that it is not just language changed or added  but language deleted  that results in this untenable situation. It fails to identify any way to prevent the loss of property nor any redress for damages.

             SB 396, in essence, fails to provide any meaningful benefit, while undermining basic rights of individuals as guaranteed under the California State Constitution, Article 1, Section 19.  We call upon you to vote NO on SB 396. It should not be passed into law. 

Respectfully yours,

Jennifer Tanner, Founder, California Indivisible Green Team

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