California Utility Co to Pay $80M in Settlement

( – Southern California Edison, a massive utility company, has reached a settlement with the US Forest Service regarding their payment of an over $80 million dollar fine related to the 2017 Thomas Fire.

The Thomas fire was the largest ever in the state at the time. A lawsuit was filed by the federal government in 2020, alleging that the utility’s power lines were at fault. Nearly 300,000 acres were burned completely in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. 2 people were killed, and more than 1,000 structures were destroyed.

The targets of the case were losses in the Los Padres National Forest and the expensive firefight by the forest service. The National Forest System owned more than 150,000 acres of the burned area.

Southern California Edison will make a $80 million payment as part of the settlement agreement, but it will not acknowledge any guilt or misconduct. However, in 2018, the utility had acknowledged that its equipment might have been the cause of the Thomas Fire. Southern California Edison emphasized its commitment to community safety, mentioning improving situational awareness, and better grid placement, in a statement.

First Assistant US Attorney Joseph McNally stated that the settlement provides a lot of taxpayer amends, covering the costs of the damage to the land and fighting the fire itself.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the fire is now the eighth worst in California’s history. At the time, it was the worst.

This settlement follows a trend of utilities facing huge settlements and penalties related to destructive wildfires. Southern California Edison in 2019 paid over $350 million to settle claims associated with three other wildfires, including the 2018 Woolsey Fire. Although at the time these fires were theorized to be the result of global warming or other natural occurrences, according to many settlements most fires in the state since have been the fault of utility companies.

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