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Erin Brockovich Concerned PG&E Bankruptcy Plan Will Shortchange Wildfire Survivors06:42
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A traffic cone sits next to a Pacific Gas and Electric Company truck on Jan. 17, 2019 in Fairfax, Calif. PG&E announced that they are preparing to file for bankruptcy at the end of January as they face an estimated $30 billion in legal claims for electrical equipment that might have been responsible for igniting destructive wildfires in California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A traffic cone sits next to a Pacific Gas and Electric Company truck on Jan. 17, 2019 in Fairfax, Calif. PG&E announced that they are preparing to file for bankruptcy at the end of January as they face an estimated $30 billion in legal claims for electrical equipment that might have been responsible for igniting destructive wildfires in California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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A new report clears Pacific Gas and Electric Company of responsibility for the deadly Tubbs Fire in 2017. But PG&E still faces potential liabilities in the tens of billions of dollars resulting from last year's California wildfires, and the company has said it will file for bankruptcy next week.

But activist Erin Brockovich, who famously took on PG&E in a 1993 lawsuit, says if the utility files for bankruptcy, fire victims would "not get what they deserve." BlueMountain Capital, a major investor in PG&E, says it has evidence that the company can pay off its debts without filing for bankruptcy.

"We've seen PG&E go through bankruptcy before, but basically it's going to be a reorganization," she tells Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd. "They look at their secure versus insecure creditors, debtors first. Now the fire victims could be first in line, but it would probably not be the full payout that they should get if the company was solvent, which in fact as we've discussed, BlueMountain Capital has overwhelming evidence that they are. But they would actually not get what they deserve."

Interview Highlights

On why the report doesn't change her argument that PG&E shouldn't file for bankruptcy 

"As a matter of fact I was up pretty late going through the 81-page report, and they state that the point of origin was near a primary structure, but because the evidence was so damaged and burned, they really couldn't conclude it was PG&E. But they say, on the other hand, it wasn't. So it's a very difficult read, and we're going to have a lot of experts that are going to say that they disagree with it. But this will continue to go forward based on this report or not into the courts, and hopefully, you know, into a jury trial."

"This is a pattern of behavior that's really got to stop. And that's probably going to play itself out clearly in a court of law."

Erin Brockovich

On if PG&E can be stopped from filing for bankruptcy 

"Well, I don't know that anybody can stop them from filing bankruptcy. There's many things that the state can do once it's in the hands of a judge. I think what's very important is the evidence is going to come forward that would allow them to continue would be things like from BlueMountain Capital with their evidence that the company is overwhelmingly solvent. They filed the [Securities and Exchange Commission] yesterday. They're going to start a fight to oust PG&E's board. So there's a lot of information mounting that shows that they are in fact solvent.

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"So you get in there with evidence and documents and a lot of information that can change the trajectory of where PG&E thinks it is they want to go. And the thing that's very frustrating is, you know, I've bumped into this company many times starting back in Hinkley, California, to a very similar case, if not identical, in another town in California that settled in 2005 and now Paradise. This is a pattern of behavior that's really got to stop. And that's probably going to play itself out clearly in a court of law." 

On the challenges these utilities face due to climate change

"Listen, [PG&E has] made a lot of money, and they pay out billions a year to shareholders. Yes, it's very important. I mean as we move forward here in the state of California and we all look at climate change and the weather conditions that are changing, it's ever more important that this company has infrastructure that is new and will not fail during winds or storms, which it has done in the past repeatedly, yet still not corrected.

"It's not an easy problem to solve. But you don't get yourself into a position that you are now being found liable for so many fires by just saying, 'OK I'm going to throw my hands in there, throw up bankruptcy, and let's just get out of this.' This is the moment where it is imperative for the state and for the people of the state and for the fire victims that ... PG&E get to that table. The state get to that table. The courts get to that table and look at what it is they're going to have to do for the victims and what it is they're going to have to do moving forward facing climate change. And we're going to have to begin to look at that map of how we get that done, or we're going to continue to have really dangerous scenarios effecting tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people in the state."


Chris Bentley produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on January 25, 2019.

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Peter O'Dowd Twitter Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.

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