SAN FRANCISCO — The federal judge supervising PG&E's criminal punishment plans to order the company to hire more workers to do tree-trimming work after the utility admitted that it didn't fully live up to the terms of its probation.
It would be the second time PG&E has been found in violation of its probation terms by this judge.
The company was supposed to "fully comply" with the wildfire safety plan that it filed with state regulators last year but admitted Wednesday that it fell short of meeting seven of the goals in the plan.
The company also repeated its position that it cannot live up to another term of probation requiring it to fully comply with state laws and regulations that require trees to be cleared away from power lines.
Those answers, combined with PG&E's public statements, led federal judge William Alsup to propose a new order "requiring PG&E to hire and train, as part of its own workforce, sufficient crews, and equipment to inspect and to trim and remove all vegetation" in order to comply with state wildfire safety standards.
"The Court saw and heard PG&E CEO Bill Johnson say on television that PG&E's grid will not be safe to operate in windstorms for ten years," Alsup wrote. "PG&E has repeatedly blamed the lack of contract crews for its shortfalls in vegetation compliance."
Over the years, PG&E has shifted much of this tree-trimming work from its own in-house workforce to outside contractors and critics argue that the safety of PG&E's system has declined as a result.
That argument was bolstered by the fact that PG&E told the court only 60% of the work in its enhanced tree-trimming program last year actually met the company's standards and had to be re-worked.
The judge's order also asks PG&E to share the details of how many in-house crews it used to employ when it used to do the tree-trimming work on its own.
PG&E still has two years of probation left to serve for the federal crimes it committed, which stem from the San Bruno gas explosion, which killed eight people in 2010.
Since then, at least 109 people have died in wildfires caused by PG&E equipment, prompting the judge to also supervise the company's electric business.
PG&E is ordered to appear in court on February 19 to explain why the judge shouldn't add more terms to PG&E's probation.
Brandon Rittiman is an investigative reporter in ABC10's special projects unit and the creator of the original documentary series FIRE - POWER - MONEY: California's burning crisis and how it's going to cost us all. Watch all three episodes here. If you have a tip about this or any other story, email Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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