PG&E strikes deal with Newsom, pleads in Camp Fire case

PG&E will plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the 2018 Camp Fire, the utility said on Monday.

The plea announcement comes after PG&E reached a deal with California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday over a restructuring plan as the utility works its way through bankruptcy.

California’s largest utility will also admit to a single count of unlawfully starting a fire. In 2019, state regulators determined that PG&E’s equipment caused the deadliest wildfire in California history.

PG&E will pay a maximum fine of about $4 million in an agreement with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office. The utility will also cover the costs to restore water access over the next five years for residents impacted by the loss of the Miocene Canal, which was destroyed in the fire.

“Our equipment started the fire,” said PG&E CEO and President Bill Johnson in a statement. “Those are the facts, and with this plea agreement we accept responsibility for our role in the fire.”

As for bankruptcy proceedings, if the U.S. bankruptcy court rejects PG&E’s plan by June 30 or if the utility does not emerge from Chapter 11 by the end of the year, the company will have to put itself up for sale.

Under the agreement, PG&E will pay $13.5 billion to the victims of the fire, half of which will be in the form of company stock.

The utility will also have to change its board and undergo additional oversight from the state and will not pay dividends to shareholders for three years.

“This is the end of business as usual for PG&E,” Newsom said in a statement. “We secured a totally transformed board and leadership structure for the company.”

A state court and the bankruptcy court still have to approve the agreement.

If PG&E manages to exit bankruptcy by June 30, the utility will be able to qualify for the state’s $21 billion wildfire insurance fund, which was created last year.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.