A federal judge in San Francisco blasted utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Wednesday, accusing the beleaguered company of putting profits before customer safety and not doing enough to keep trees away from its power lines, thus increasing the risk of wildfires.
"Safety is not your number one thing," said U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup in a probation hearing in San Francisco. The hearing came one day after the utility had filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of billions of dollars in potential liabilities stemming from two seasons of devastating wildfires.
Alsup is scrutinizing the utility company's criminal convictions for violating pipeline safety laws after the massive 2010 gas explosion that killed eight people and incinerated a neighborhood in the Peninsula suburb of San Bruno.
An investigation is underway to determine what role PG&E's power lines may have played in igniting last year's deadly Camp Fire, which killed 86 people and destroyed much of the Butte County town of Paradise.
"To my mind, there's a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires," Alsup said. "What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, 'PG&E, continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.' "