Governor Signs Comprehensive Wildfire Prevention and Safety Legislation
Governor Brown signed SB 901 (Dodd) into law late last week. The new law addresses forest management, fire prevention, funding, utility debt management and cost recovery, among other items. CSAC worked closely with the Legislature and Joint Legislative Conference Committee on Wildfire Preparedness and Response in the development of this legislation. CSAC supports the new law because it will protect counties and victims of fires, stabilize rates, and keep our utilities fiscally sound. CSAC will continue to advocate on behalf of counties in order to help successfully implement this new law.
Key elements of SB 901 include:
- Legal Protections: No changes to inverse condemnation.
- Funding: $1 billion over the next five years from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) for improved forest management and fire prevention programs.
- Mutual Aid & Improved Utility Safety Plans: Allows for the advanced placement of firefighting resources and increased safety standards and planning requirements for utilities.
- Forest Management and Regulatory Streamlining: A comprehensive streamlining of regulations for landscape and forestry management practices that will enhance and support fire-prevention activities such as thinning, prescribed burns and fuel reduction on federal lands.
- 2017 Wildfire Cost Sharing: The bill does not change the current reasonableness standard for cost recovery at the PUC. It will require utilities to pay for negligent behavior, to the extent they can afford to do so without impacting ratepayers or their ability to provide service. The bill includes a financial stress test to determine how much debt shareholders can afford, before any impact to ratepayers will be determined. The bill also allows utilities to bond out their liability debt, minimizing ratepayer costs by spreading out repayment over long periods of time; helping to keep utilities financially solvent.
- Future Wildfire Cost Recovery: For fires after January 2019, utilities would have their share of fault determined by the PUC using a number of factors, including climate. The PUC may allow utilities to recover costs from ratepayers if its actions in managing its systems were considered reasonable, but does not require them to do so.
- Executive Compensation: Restricts executive compensation to be derived from shareholders, not ratepayers.
- Commission on Wildfire Cost Recovery: Creates a commission in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research to consider methods of socializing the costs from wildfires.
In addition to signing SB 901, the Governor also signed two other pieces of CSAC supported legislation that will help provide more resources to counties for wildfire prevention. SB 1079 (Monning) will allow the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to make advance payments to grantees receiving funds from the healthy forest and local fire prevention grant programs. AB 1956 (Limon) will require CAL FIRE to establish a local assistance grant program for fire prevention activities and would allow for advance payments of awarded grants to local governments and other agencies.