California Senate Leader Toni Atkins is warning that climate change will require California to reform its policies and residents to take preventive measures to protect against increasing wildfires.
“Inaction is not an option,” Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, told Times of San Diego. “Climate change is here, and it’s threatening our communities, our energy systems, our economy and our way of life. With wildfires increasing in frequency and intensity, we’ve seen what can happen if we don’t act. The costs to human life and well-being are unacceptable.”
Fire season is now a year-round phenomenon in California, and the fires have been growing more ferocious. Six of the 10 most destructive wildfires in California history have raged within the past two years, including the worst one — last year’s Camp Fire — which killed 85 people and destroyed most of the town of Paradise.
Atkins pointed out that San Diego County has had similar experiences. The Cedar Fire of 2003 and the Witch and Harris fires of 2007 are respectively the fourth, sixth and nineteenth most destructive in California history, having destroyed a combined 5,018 structures and killed 25 people.
She commended San Diego Gas & Electric for its actions since those fires, including investment of more than $1.5 billion on wildfire mitigation and grid resiliency. She said the utility is now considered a national leader in recognizing the presence of conditions that create wildfire danger and neutralizing the threat.
“I applaud SDG&E’s innovative efforts,” Atkins said. “Still, it’s clear that we need comprehensive reforms to better manage growing fire risks.”
Despite SDG&E’s efforts, two leading credit agencies recently downgraded the utility’s bond rating because of wildfire risks. And the state’s largest investor-owned utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, has entered bankruptcy due to costs incurred in the Camp Fire and other recent blazes.
Southern California Edison and SDG&E have warned that they could be just one fire away from joining PG&E in Chapter 11.
Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a comprehensive report on the danger that wildfires create for California’s economy, energy infrastructure and public safety amid advancing climate change.
Atkins said the state Senate is currently digging into the details of the Governor’s report in advance of proposing policy changes. “The priority of Senate Democrats will be protecting ratepayers, fire victims and the reliability of electric and gas service to California’s consumers,” she said.
“While we continue our recovery and rebuilding efforts in the communities devastated by recent wildfires, we also have to decide how we will respond to future disasters. We must take proactive steps to limit the damage,” Atkins said.
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