By Jake Lee Green
Kern Valley Sun
The United States government and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) are in a heated battle as both entities squabble over whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should be allowed to take part in a claim for a $13.5 billion settlement that would cover money that FEMA provided in aid to victims of wildfires that ravaged California in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
FEMA, who is placing blame on the now-bankrupt PG&E, says it is owed a portion of the settlement for money it had paid out to California victims of the ravenous wildfires.
PG&E has been attributed to having started fires in 2015, 2017, and 2018 which devastated a large amount of land within Northern and Southern California. PG&E transmission lines, which ignited the fires, have partially been the argument against the nation’s largest utility company.
PG&E, who is currently struggling to pull itself out of bankruptcy, is the primary target of FEMA who believes the utility company needs to repay the tax-payer funded agency. If they don’t FEMA is seeking repayment from a fund set up to aid victims of the wildfires in 2015, 2017, and 2018. FEMA is going as far as to say that it may have to seek up to $3.9 billion of the $13.5 billion settlement. The headlines have yet to haunt the tax-payer funded agency.
FEMA is hoping to avoid a fall-out with the public by reworking the deal approved by a federal judge in December of 2019. PG&E and the lawyers of the victims of the fires have stated publicly and repeatedly that the agency is not entitled to any of the funds within the settlement. A financial battle that has pitted the company who caused the fires with the agency, and other state agencies, who supplied aid. This puts victims right in the middle of it all. Victims’ lawyers have expressed outrage over the request from FEMA saying that it is a move that may significantly reduce the amount of money that their clients will receive. Robert Fenton, a FEMA regional administrator, has stated publicly that the approach from the fire victim’s lawyers “boggles” his mind; referring to the approach in which PG&E and victims’ lawyers are making FEMA and California the enemy in the dispute.
The settlement fund issue will be heard in a February 11 court hearing.
FEMA received quite a bit of flak from more than thirteen dozen United States lawmakers in the past couple of weeks with warnings of FEMA preparing itself for a public relations fiasco. FEMA could bear the brunt of California resident’s anger if they receive any of the money designated in the $13.5 billion settlement. However, FEMA states it is just following through on its legal obligation to look into reimbursement of funds paid in the disaster which was caused by PG&E. Which, if proven to be caused with the intent on behalf of the company, could sway the decision to pay out the money requested in favor of FEMA.
“What we are interested in doing is holding PG&E responsible and accountable for the billions of dollars taxpayers provided to assist individuals and communities affected by the wildfires,” Fenton said. “The last thing I want to do is have to go after these individuals that have received claims from the bankruptcy where certain parts of that claim may duplicate funding that we’ve already given them. It’s much easier upfront to go ahead and simply deal with PG&E directly.”