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Wildfire Committee Considers Comprehensive Preparedness and Prevention Plan

Aug 24, 2018
by Bill Dodd, State Senator

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The Legislative Conference Committee on Wildfire Preparedness and Response on Friday discussed key elements of a proposed committee report that includes provisions for protecting Californians from future wildfires and preventing electric utility ratepayers from bearing unfair costs.
 
“We must stand with past victims, prevent future fires from claiming new victims and protect the long-term interests of every utility ratepayer in this state,” said Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, co-chairman of the 10-member committee. “We can all agree that the status quo is unacceptable and we have a real opportunity to make progress toward these goals.”
 
Key elements of the proposed report that were outlined included:
  • Utility Fire Prevention and Planning: Adopt new requirements for investor-owned and publicly owned utilities to implement comprehensive fire prevention plans. Investor-owned utility planning will be subject to review by Cal Fire.
  • Forestry and Landscape Management: A comprehensive streamlining of landscape and forestry management to include small landowner incentives, fuel reduction and other measures to expedite the removal of dead and dying trees and chaparral from moderate, significant and extreme fire risk areas.
    These provisions also will include California Environmental Quality Act streamlining, small landowner exemptions from timber harvesting plan rules, and new requirements for the state Air Resources Board to quantify and publish greenhouse gas emissions from fires.  This element also will extend some existing biomass contracts and revise standards that plants must meet in order to give more flexibility on monthly and annual reporting requirements.  These provisions will also require all conservation easements granted by state agencies to include conditions for wildfire, fuels reduction, carbon sequestration, and wildlife habitat protection.
  • California Public Utilities Commission Reasonableness Review: Revise and add new provisions to current law directing the CPUC to take into account additional factors such as the nature and severity of the conduct of investor-owned utilities, whether it disregarded risk of fires, whether factors outside the control of the IOU were a causal factor in the fire, whether it had a past record of disregard for fire protection and whether extreme weather events contributed to the fires.  
  • Investor-owned Utility Ratepayer Bonds: Allow the CPUC to authorize an IOU to “finance” costs that are put into utility rates where they are the result of a catastrophic fire.  Financing these costs with appropriate parameters is a mechanism for the CPUC to approve a dedicated rate component, to allow an IOU to sell revenue bonds to help pay off that debt, and to manage and even out costs to ratepayers to avoid rate spikes and excessive utility bills.
  • Mutual Aid: Expand the purposes of the 2018 Budget Act appropriation for mutual aid so that it can be used more broadly to pre-position firefighters and equipment, working with local responders, to interdict fires early to prevent more severe damages.
  • Investor-Owned Utility Executive Pay: Prohibit any expenditure of utility ratepayer funds to pay for IOU executive compensation or perks. 
  • Jobs and worker Protection: Adopt job protections for public firefighters and will protect IOU workers in the unlikely event of an IOU insolvency.
  • Investment in Forestry, Fire and Carbon Reduction Activities: Extend current one-time budget year funding from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund over multiple years to ensure consistent and sustained investment in forest management, healthy forests, and the Administration’s forest carbon reduction plan.
  • Blue Ribbon Commission: Establish a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine and make recommendations to the Legislature and governor by 2019 on more effective ways to socialize the costs of damages from wildfires and whether to set up a fund to assist in the payment of costs. 
  • “I believe the report will reflect a holistic approach that will help stop fires from sparking and spreading uncontrollably, save communities and taxpayers significant costs in avoided disasters and protect utility ratepayers from bearing undue costs,” Senator Dodd said. 
 
The committee will meet again early next week to further consider the proposal that will go into Senate Bill 901 and take additional public input. A link to the Conference Committee website is here: http://focus.senate.ca.gov/wildfirecommittee.

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