Lay The Blame Where It Belongs

In light of the latest round of brush fires in California, one has to look at the causes, both natural and man-made, to determine why they happen and do the work needed to prevent them from happening again, at least to the magnitude we’ve seen over the past couple of years.

California’s government and the media (there really isn’t any difference at this point), have laid the blame entirely at the feet of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), saying they’ve been negligent. According to Sacramento, PG&E hasn’t been performing enough maintenance or clearing the brush from their rights of way to help prevent brush fires. With the lengthy drought being experienced by California literally adding fuel to the fire, it’s been a perfect storm of conditions to make even small brush fires potentially disastrous.

Anyone paying attention to the situation out there knows that PG&E has been taking precautions to help lessen the danger, though those precautions are drastic – shutting down the power into areas experiencing high winds to prevent the power lines from sparking and igniting fires.

The big problem has been that the state of California has been laying the blame on the wrong party – PG&E – when the blame should be laid entirely at the feet of Sacramento. (Link is paywalled.)

Gov. Gavin Newsom is trying to deflect political blame. “It’s about dog-eat-dog capitalism meeting climate change. It’s about corporate greed meeting climate change. It’s about decades of mismanagement,” Mr. Newsom declared. But Democrats for years have treated PG&E as their de facto political subsidiary. The wildfires and blackouts are the direct result of their mismanagement.

The state Public Utilities Commission is in charge of enforcing state safety laws and regulations, which can carry penalties of up to $50,000 per violation per day. Yet PG&E received no safety fines related to its power-grid management over the last several years. The commission has instead focused on enforcing the Legislature’s climate mandates.

State law mandates that utilities obtain 33% of electric generation from renewables such as wind and solar by 2020 and 60% by 2030. Utilities must spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to reduce the cost of green energy for low-income households. PG&E has prioritized political obeisance over safety.

Money that was needed to perform maintenance and upgrades was diverted to meet the state mandates. Brush cutting that needed to be done to reduce the fire hazard was hindered by environmental regulations.

But PG&E's equipment couldn't start these huge wildfires without a bunch of dead brush fueling the flames. As Chuck Devore writes in Forbes, "the outrageous cost to remove a few dead trees from private land is a consequence of California's Byzantine environmental regulatory patchwork." It's not climate change that's responsible for these massive fires, "it's decades of environmental mismanagement that has created a tinderbox of unharvested timber, dead trees, and thick underbrush."

As Devore writes, "forest management is so bad on public lands that a new report, ordered by the California legislature in 2010, shows that the portion of California's National Forests protected from timber harvesting is now a net contributor to atmospheric carbon dioxide due to fires and trees killed by insects and disease." So if environmentalists really believed climate change was causing the fires, they would be calling for more timber harvesting to stop it.

Funding diverted from maintenance to state mandated feel good projects. Unnecessarily difficult environmental regulations severely restricting much needed brush cutting and tree trimming.

A perfect storm, indeed.