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State Auditor Rips Regulators Over Wildfire Safety Plans By PG&E, Major Utilities

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A report from the California state auditor is criticizing utility regulators over wildfire safety plans by Pacific Gas and Electric and the state's other major utilities, saying the plans do not adequately address immediate needs even as the drought-parched state heads into another challenging fire season.

Acting State Auditor Michael Tilden's report said the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is not using its authority to require wildfire mitigation compliance; and said the newly-formed Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety signed off on plans that fail to prioritize tree-trimming and burying lines in the state's most high-risk areas for wildfires.

"The office approved plans despite some utilities' failure to demonstrate that they are appropriately prioritizing their mitigation activities, and subsequent reviews have found that some utilities failed to focus their efforts in high fire-threat areas," said Tilden in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature. "The CPUC also conducts audits to determine whether utilities comply with rules designed to ensure that they are operating safely, but it did not audit all utility service territories on a consistent basis, did not audit several areas that include high fire-threat areas, and has not used its authority to penalize utilities when its audits uncover violations."

Read the full report from California State Auditor

Fires sparked by PG&E equipment have killed dozens of people and burned more than a million acres in recent years. The report noted since 2015, power lines have caused six of the state's most destructive wildfires.

The report said the deficiencies in wildfire mitigation plans leave the state's residents in danger from both large wildfires and public safety power shutoffs enacted by utilities to minimize the wildfire risk.

Among the nearly 40,000 miles of bare power lines in high fire-risk areas, the state's utilities have only completed hardening projects on just 1,540 miles of lines, according to the report.

In response to the report, the CPUC said told the Sacramento Bee "it should use a risk-based approach" for its investigations. Meanwhile, the Energy Infrastructure Safety agency defended its oversight and decisions to approve safety plans by utilities, with agency Director Caroline Thomas Jacobs telling the Bee the system is "forward-looking and designed to encourage and incentivize electrical corporations to invest in safeety and improve safety culture."

In a statement to KPIX 5, PG&E responded to the report saying, "We are currently reviewing the state auditor's report and remain committed to working with our external partners on solutions that will make additional progress toward our shared aim of safety."

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