California lawmakers weighed a series of difficult options on Wednesday to revamp laws designed to lessen the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires, and considered the thorny question of who should foot the bill for blazes sparked by equipment belonging to the state’s investor-owned utility companies.
The hearing in Sacramento came as fire officials reported eight major summertime blazes burning their way through large swaths of the state. No actions were taken by the committee that was convened last month by leaders of the Senate and Assembly. The informational hearing was a prelude to what’s expected to be an intense political battle over wildfire prevention and liability when legislators return to Sacramento next month.
“If the Legislature fails to act, avoidable fires will continue to happen,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), co-chairman of the special legislative committee formed to lead the discussion.
Half a dozen experts, including scientists and regulators, presented a broad overview of the difficult path ahead. That includes answering questions about what to do when Californians move into high-danger fire zones, the less-stringent standards allowed on older structures and how to balance the costs of major fires between utility shareholders, insurance companies and homeowners.