California utility expects to pay $2.5 billion for wildfires

Updated 22 June 2018
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California utility expects to pay $2.5 billion for wildfires

  • The blazes killed 44 people, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses
  • The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has determined the cause of 14 fires and found the utility’s downed power lines started several

SAN FRANCISCO: A Northern California utility said Thursday it expects to pay at least $2.5 billion in connection with deadly wildfires that whipped through wine country last October — some of them ignited by its fallen power lines.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. also warned that its liability could be considerably higher after state fire officials determine the cause of 21 major fires that devastated the region last year.
The blazes killed 44 people, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and wiped out vineyards, marijuana farms and other agricultural operations.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has determined the cause of 14 fires and found the utility’s downed power lines started several.
But state officials have not found what ignited California’s most destructive wildfire, which destroyed more than 5,000 buildings, including 2,800 homes in the town of Santa Rosa that was hardest hit by the deadly flames.
PG&E said it is facing more than 200 lawsuits and expects more. One of the law firms suing the utility has hired celebrity activist Erin Brockovich, whose legal fight against PG&E over water issues was portrayed in a 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts.
Prosecutors also are investigating whether PG&E should be charged with any crimes if it is found to have failed to follow state safety regulations.
A US judge fined the utility $3 million after it was convicted of six felony charges for failing to properly maintain a natural gas pipeline that exploded under a neighborhood south of San Francisco in 2010.
The explosion killed eight people and wiped out a neighborhood in suburban San Bruno. The California Public Utilities Commission also fined PG&E $1.6 billion.
The utility said in a filing Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the $2.5 billion charge tied to the wildfires will be recorded in the quarter ending June 30.
PG&E said the figure is at the low end of its estimated liability, which could exceed $10 billon. The utility said it has about $840 million in insurance for the fires.
PG&E President Geisha Williams said California law holds utilities almost completely responsible for wildfires started by their equipment even if they followed all safety rules.
She called the law “bad public policy” and called on lawmakers to change it to bring the state more in line with the rest of the country, which takes into account the utilities’ safety record.
Williams said extreme weather conditions contributed to the wildfires.
“Years of drought, extreme heat and 129 million dead trees have created a ‘new normal’ for our state that requires comprehensive new solutions,” Williams said.
Fire victims who lost their homes said they are frustrated with PG&E and its legal arguments seeking to minimize its financial liability.
“If somebody contributed or caused my loss, they should help me rebuild,” said Marc Selivanoff, whose Santa Rosa home was destroyed in the October fires. “If there’s anything PG&E can do, they should be doing it instead of trying to dodge the problem.”
Selivanoff is a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against the utility.
The San Francisco-based utility’s stock price on Thursday rose 97 cents a share, or 2.43 percent, to $40.97 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.


Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft takes part in a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, as his nominee to serve as the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
Trump said in a pair of tweets that Craft “has done an outstanding job representing our Nation” and he has “no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level.”
Two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters had told The Associated Press that Trump had been advised that Craft’s confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he had been considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had backed Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, the people said. Trump’s first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.
Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the US delegation to the UN General Assembly under President George W. Bush’s administration. She is also friends with McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her “longtime friendship and support” at her swearing-in as ambassador.
As US ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump had also considered US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.
Nauert’s withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position, given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the United Nations, particularly the UN Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert’s formal nomination.
Trump said Dec. 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the UN job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert’s nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process. Nauert cited family considerations in withdrawing from the post.
With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo had been keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in UN diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Trump has demoted the UN position to sub-Cabinet rank, in a move backed by both Bolton and Pompeo, according to three other officials. Grenell had suggested he wasn’t interested in a non-Cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Haley had been a member of the Cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration’s first 14 months. Bolton was not a Cabinet member when he served as UN ambassador in President George W. Bush’s administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Craft was appointed ambassador to Canada because of her financial contributions to the Trump campaign, but said that’s not unusual as past ambassadors have also contributed to presidents who have appointed them.
“I think Ottawa has regarded Craft as a light weight, partly because of her background and partly because the sense is that Trump, unlike his predecessors, doesn’t listen to his ambassadors or care what they think,” Wiseman said.
Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.
Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.