California lawmakers traveled to Hawaii with utility executives as wildfires raged
During the junket, representatives from utility companies discussed with lawmakers just how much responsibility they should bear for wildfires – even as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) could be on the hook for several billions of dollars in damages for fires it caused over the past few years.
The utility companies are pushing for a new state law that would raise electricity prices to offset costs incurred from wildfires, according to The New York Times.
The annual event, hosted by the nonprofit Independent Voter Project, was held in Maui in November. PG&E executives did not attend the conference because of the wildfires, but representatives from San Diego Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison did, KABC-TV reported.
Those in attendance at the Wailea conference included California Assembly members Frank Bigelow, Bill Brough, Ian Calderon, Jim Cooper, Tom Daly, Heath Flora, Jim Frazier, Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Freddie Rodriguez and Blanca Rubio. State Sens. Ben Hueso and Cathleen Galgiani also attended, nonprofit Consumer Watchdog reports.
The lawmakers all previously voted for legislation that would help utility companies fined for wildfires and have received more than $630,000 in campaign contributions from utilities, according to Consumer Watchdog.
“We were shocked to learn that while many wildfire victims fled for their lives in Paradise and Malibu this November, utility executives and lobbyists for California's big utilities were wining and dining 12 influential state legislators in a different paradise – Wailea, Maui,” Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court said in an open letter to California leaders.
Dan Howle, chairman of the Independent Voter Project, told The New York Times no lobbying was permitted at the conference and attendees did not discuss specific legislation.
“What would be wrong with elected officials and businesses discussing issues?” Howle said. “If the public wants to go, the public can pay a fee.”
Three wildfires wreaked havoc on California in November. The Camp Fire became the most destructive in state history, killing 86 people and destroying nearly 19,000 structures in Butte County. In Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, the Hill and Woolsey fires were responsible for the deaths of three people and destruction of more than 1,600 structures.
A federal judge suggested the embattled PG&E cut power during certain wind conditions, regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit, to prevent devastation like the kind that ripped through the region last year. The company faces $15 billion in damages, cleanup costs and numerous related lawsuits for blazes in 2017 and could face billions more in damages if investigators determine its equipment resulted in the destructive Camp Fire.
Democratic lawmakers have come under fire in recent days for taking a trip to Puerto Rico to meet with lobbyists and see a special performance of the popular Broadway show “Hamilton” during the ongoing partial government shutdown. The government partially shuttered just before Christmas with President Trump and Democrats at loggerheads over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Republicans have called out their counterparts as images of Democrats enjoying Puerto Rico’s beaches have surfaced.
Around 109 lobbyists and corporate executives are named in a memo welcoming the guests to the seaside resort in Puerto Rico. Among those attending are members of some from prominent Washington firms as well as representatives from R.J. Reynolds, Facebook, Comcast, Amazon, PhRMA, Microsoft, Intel, Verizon and unions like the National Education Association.
Fox News’ Travis Fedschun, Andrew O’Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.