There is something very raw and intense in the power of destructive forces from natural disasters. Stepping back, if possible, from the atrocities caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, and specifically to our discussion today, wildfires. Violent acts of mother nature often destroy communities both physically and mentally, and yet, the worst feeling when ruminating on these disasters is that we cannot place blame on these so-called “acts of g-d.” If humans are inherently prone to anything, we love it when something goes wrong and we can avoid taking any responsibility, even more so when we can assign blame to a foreign entity or force of nature. As it relates to the deadly wildfires that swept across California several months ago, though many blamed ethereal forces, some believed that the fire was caused by an individual or even a corporation that tried to hide their misdeeds by tossing them into the very flames they ignited.
Towards the end of last month, investigators had determined that Pacific Gas & Electric (PCG), California’s largest public utility was the key suspect in causing the Camp Fire in Butte County, which claimed the lives of at least 86 people, and destroyed 14,000 homes, 500 businesses, and 4,300 other buildings according to CNN. Several media outlets reported that PG&E (PCG) reported “an outage” on one of their transmission lines located in the area where the fire began, a fact that the company somehow convinced us not to look into. At the time of the investigation in December, fire officials had yet to determine whether PG&E (PCG) was responsible. Consequently, as many of us know that when playing with, or causing, fires, sometimes one can suffer from serious burns, be they physical or metaphorical. In the wake of the fires, victims of the California wildfires filed claims against PG&E (PCG), totaling upwards of $7 billion in punitive damages. As the state’s largest utility, the Company announced on Monday that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to alleviate some of their recent debt pressures, pay all those affected by the fires, and remain in business because, you know, Californians still need gas and electricity…
In a press release regarding PG&E’s (PCG) announcement, representatives from the Company assured customers that business operations would continue as usual.
“…the Company does not expect any impact to electric or natural gas service for its customers as a result of the Chapter 11 process. PG&E remains committed to assisting the communities affected by wildfires in Northern California, and its restoration and rebuilding efforts will continue. The Company also expects that its employees will continue to receive their pay and healthcare benefits as usual.”
–PG&E statement on the bankruptcy filing
Amidst the news concerning Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PCG) acceptance of blame for the Northern California wildfires, something suspicious took place within the company’s c-level leadership. Hours before the company said it was notifying workers that it would be filing for bankruptcy, PG&E’s Chief Executive Officer (PCG), Geisha Williams, announced her timely resignation. Now, why on Earth would a CEO of a company responsible for causing devastating fires that took the lives of innocent people and destroyed thousands of acres of property left her position? Isn’t it decorum that the captain goes down with the ship? I guess moral fiber isn’t included in the balanced breakfast of corporate executives. According to reports from PG&E (PCG), Williams will receive a severance payment likely to be around $2.36 million to $4.46 million, depending on how her departure is categorized.
“On behalf of the Board, I want to thank Geisha for her service and her tireless commitment to our employees and the 16 million Californians we serve. While we are making the process as a company in safety and other areas, the Board recognizes the tremendous challenges PG&E continues to face…”
–Richard C. Kelly, Chair of the Board of PG&E Corporation