Bill Dodd: We must protect ratepayers and keep communities safe
By Bill Dodd
(Napa Valley Register, 7-25-18)
Sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago, and sometimes it feels like last week. Like so many people across Napa County, my family was forced to evacuate our home on the first night of the October 2017 wildfires. I am grateful that I returned to my home a few days later to find no damage and that no one in my family was hurt. But so many in our community weren’t as fortunate. Over the next several weeks, it became clear that we had endured a natural disaster none of us could have imagined. We have all been touched by this in some way. The survivors who lost their property and their loved ones are still recovering, and will be for years. With these survivors’ needs in mind, we have been working on recovery, prevention, and preparedness. I have been partnering with the governor and my colleagues in the Legislature to advance dozens of policy changes, ranging from insurance reforms to improved forest management, emergency alerts and mutual aid response. And there has been significant discussion on how we can address the problems caused when electric lines ignite fires and ultimately prevent fires from starting in the first place.
To address this complicated policy area the Legislature has formed a Senate-Assembly Conference Committee on Wildfire Preparedness and Response, and I was appointed co-chair. The first hearing is set for Wednesday, July 25 at the state Capitol. Lawmakers and Governor Brown are committed to making this an open, transparent, and deliberative process. My priorities for any legislation on the subject are clear: — We must stand up for those devastated in the 2017 fires and fight to prevent utilities from sparking future wildfires and claiming new victims. — We must prevent ratepayers and taxpayers from bearing undue costs. The legislation will hold bad actors accountable and won’t affect any liability for last year’s wildfires. I have no interest in helping PG&E or any utility. The measure must be what’s best for California, not special interests like utilities or insurance companies. Again, this is about victims and ratepayers, past, present and future and what benefits them. I also believe much tougher safety regulations are needed, which is why I authored several bills to add new safety requirements for utilities. These requirements involve policies for de-energizing power lines, use of more accurate weather monitoring and prediction, and improved oversight by state regulators to catch problems like overgrown trees before it’s too late.
These upgrades take investment, but they will save us in the long run. Better utility planning and greater accountability will help us avoid loss of life, homes, and the massive costs associated with response and recovery. There’s no silver bullet for preventing devastating wildfires, so we need to take a thoughtful and holistic approach. We must protect ratepayers and keep communities safe. Heal the past damage, while doing our best to prevent future harm. Working together, and building upon our work over the last year, I truly believe we can make our state a safer place to live. The residents of our county and every county in our state deserve nothing less.
Bill Dodd represents California’s 3rd Senate District, which includes all or portions of Napa, Solano, Sonoma, Yolo, Sacramento, and Contra Costa counties. You can learn more about Senator Dodd at sen.ca.gov/dodd.