Opinion: PG&E bankruptcy exit deal bad for Californians

By Jessica Tovar and Tré Vasquez

As millions of Californians scrambled to navigate life in a
pandemic, Governor Newsom negotiated a deal with PG&E and placated the
failed utility’s investors. And it’s not a good one.

For survivors, Newsom’s deal means being handed company
stocks that are plummeting in value and locked in a trust they can’t even
control.

The deal would load the new PG&E with at least $38
billion in debt – billions that will eventually be added to our monthly bills,
making it impossible to pay for necessary safety upgrades.

With more wildfires and PG&E shutoffs coming, Newsom’s
deal does little to address the grid’s fundamental safety issues, and only
triggers substantive change if PG&E burns down more families and homes.

In the North Bay, we’re still restabilizing our communities
after surviving fires in 2017 and 2019. Rents increased 36 percent in Sonoma
County immediately after the 2017 fires, and in a region where 1 in 10 of jobs
are in hospitality, the pandemic has left many unemployed, wondering how we’re
going to pay rent and bills. We’re still grappling with the loss of our homes
and the deaths and displacement of our loved ones from the fires. We cannot
allow PG&E to continue robbing our communities to pay for their negligence.

Our collective health and safety depends on housing,
healthcare, energy to refrigerate our food and hot water to wash our hands. To
protect that, we need utilities that prioritize safety and serve the public
good, not just extract profits.

Energy and water should be human rights and shared
resources, not commodities. Temporary moratoriums on evictions and shutoffs
won’t cut it – we need real debt forgiveness on utility bills.

Now is the time for system change. We need full and fair
cash compensation for fire victims, no additional debt that ratepayers will
have to pay, and a plan to transform PG&E into a community-and-worker owned
entity with a safe, reliable, climate-resilient grid.

Governor Newsom said “Bankruptcy turned out to be an extraordinary opportunity for the state.” And it is. But if he doesn’t reverse course soon,
that opportunity could become a recurring nightmare.

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Jessica Tovar is an Oakland-based organizer with the Local
Clean Energy Alliance. Tré Vasquez lives in Santa Rosa and is a staff member
with Movement Generation. Both are part of the Reclaim Our Power Utility
Justice Campaign.

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