PG&E's Unwitting Shareholders To Pay San Bruno Explosion Fines
OREANDA-NEWS. August 12, 2016. Pacific Gas & Electric is facing a multi-million dollar fine over its handling of the deadly San Bruno blast in 2010, but now unwitting shareholders could be the ones paying the fines.
The state’s largest utility was found guilty Tuesday of breaking safety laws before and after that explosion. And obstructing the investigation.
The question now: Who exactly will pay up?
San Bruno attorney Brit Strottman said, “It didn’t really hit them as hard as we thought it would.”
Steve Weissman with the Goldman School Of Public Policy at UC Berkeley said, “All the money that the utility has comes from ratepayers one way or another.”
Take for example the \\$1.6 billion in fines and penalties from the state. \\$850 million goes into improving pipeline safety. Another \\$400 million goes into a one-time rebate for the money PG&E was supposed to spend on pipeline safety.
Strottman said, “It’s kind of like a ‘we’re sorry here’s a credit to ratepayers.’”
And while \\$1.25 billion in repairs and rebates sounds big – PG&E may get a tax break on the deal.
Weissman said, “You could see where there is a fairly decent argument that this is part of what they do and they get a tax write off on it.”
And the \\$3 million federal fine?
“It’s not something that is going to even be a blip on the radar screen for a company that size,” Weissman said.
CBS business reporter Jason Brooks said, “In fact the stock is rising today. They’ve already included these fines into their performance.”
But that still leaves a \\$600 million state fine that PG&E shareholders will have to pay – but wait – it turns out that 80 percent of PG&E stock is owned by institutional and mutual funds. And who are they?
That list includes investors that most people would find in their retirement accounts. In other words pension and 401k plans.
So there is a good chance that members of the public are shareholders in PG&E and they might not even know it.
A PG&E spokesman said, “While we are very much focused on the future, we will never forget the lessons of the past. We have made unprecedented progress in the nearly six years since the tragic San Bruno accident and we are committed to maintaining our focus on safety. We want our customers and their families to know that we are committed to re-earning their trust by acting with integrity and working around the clock to provide them with energy that is safe, reliable, affordable and clean.”
Some leaders in San Mateo County aren’t satisfied with the potential \\$3 million fine against PG&E. But said they do agree with the guilty verdict. They say it means justice is served.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said, “Those 12 jurors stood there and came back with a verdict that said, ‘no, you are responsible. You did obstruct justice. You did violate the law. And you are held accountable. You are a company that is properly described as felons.”
San Bruno city leaders are asking PG&E not to appeal and to instead accept the verdict.
They hope it will spark change and provide closure as the neighborhood continues to rebuild.