California drops wildfire utility liability protection plan

FILE - In this June 29, 2018, file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a forum in Sacramento, Calif. California lawmakers are abandoning a controversial proposal by Brown to shield electrical utilities from some financial liability for wildfires. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
FILE - In this Friday, July 27, 2018, file photo, homes leveled by the Carr Fire line the Lake Keswick Estates area of Redding, Calif. California lawmakers are abandoning a controversial proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown to shield electrical utilities from some financial liability for wildfires. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers are abandoning a proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown to shield electrical utilities from some financial liability for wildfires. For now.

There's not enough time to settle the contentious and complex issues involved before the legislative session ends Aug. 31, Napa Democratic Sen. Bill Dodd told the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday.

"It was a tough fight ... so we are pivoting," said Dodd, co-chairman of the legislative conference committee on wildfire preparedness and response.

Brown's proposal would have let judges decide how much utilities pay when their equipment causes wildfires. It would have softened a legal standard that generally holds them entirely responsible for the costs of fires triggered by their power lines or other infrastructure.

Current California law holds utilities responsible for damage from fires ignited by their equipment even if they have followed safety rules.

Those who want to change the law fear utilities could go bankrupt or significantly raise prices for California residents as climate change makes wildfires even more severe.

Lawmakers raised concerns about Brown's plan at an Aug. 9 hearing on the proposal. They said it would give utility companies too much protection without ensuring they safely maintain equipment.

The issue was raised last fall when Pacific Gas and Electric Co. launched a lobbying campaign with other big utility companies to change the system.

It's unlikely they'll drop their fight but they will lose a key ally in Brown, whose term ends in January.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com

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