SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. senator Bernie Sanders funded a new campaign video taking aim at Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest utility, ahead of the state’s primary election next month.
The video, just under three minutes long, was published Thursday morning on Sanders’ YouTube channel.
The video begins with a wide drone shot over the wildfire-ravaged area in Paradise, California, burned in 2018 by the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in state history. The fire was triggered by PG&E’s electrical lines, Cal Fire confirmed in an investigation.
Nearly the entire city of Paradise was destroyed and smoke from the blaze covered the Bay Area and elsewhere in Northern California. Sanders visited Paradise in August 2019 to view the destroyed site firsthand.
The Sanders video featured members of the activist group Let’s Own PG&E.
“You see them everywhere; they’re on the sidewalk, they’re on the meters, they’re on your bill that comes every month, but yet, they’re nowhere. Where are they when we need help?” asked Emily Agire.
After Agire’s question, a man whose Santa Rosa home was burned down in the 2017 Nuns Fire, also found to have been caused by PG&E equipment, blasts the utility.
“PG&E is caught in a dead spiral. The only way that PG&E can really continue to maintain profits is to cut costs. That means they’re not doing maintenance. They’re not modernizing their grid. All these things that they need to do, they can’t do and also pay their investors at the same time,” said Eric Ruud, also with Let’s Own PG&E.
The video also features Alyssa Moore, who has a degree in environmental science, to speak about the environmental impact of the fires. “Here in California, we’ve been seeing much longer droughts, which are creating the conditions that lead to these fires,” Moore said.
Climate change is one of the key focuses of Sanders’ campaign. While touring Paradise, Sanders unveiled the Green New Deal, his ten-year, $16 trillion plan to fight climate change. Sanders called climate change “not only the single greatest challenge facing our country; it is also our single greatest opportunity to build a more just and equitable future, but we must act immediately.”
PG&E, currently bankrupt, is also facing heavy criticism from California governor Gavin Newsom, who has continuously called for the utility to become a publicly owned entity.
The video ends with a quote from a woman that suggests Sanders feels the same. “If we’re going to be paying for everything that PG&E does, people of California should have a say in how it is run.”
Aside from its liability in starting California fires, PG&E has been scrutinized for shutting off power to millions of Californians for days at a time in 2019 during high risk wildfire weather conditions in an effort to prevent even more destructive fires.
In a statement, PG&E responded to the Sanders campaign’s video:
“The destruction caused by the wildfires of 2017 and 2018 was absolutely devastating. PG&E’s most important responsibility must always be the safety of our customers and the communities we serve. We settled with past wildfire victims for $25.5 billion and we continue to work to ensure that they are paid fairly and expeditiously. We are committed to doing right by the communities impacted by wildfires, and to doing everything we can to reduce the risk of wildfires in the future. The 23,000 California employees at PG&E have made tremendous progress in the last two years to keep our customers and communities safe from the ever-increasing threat of extreme weather and wildfire, and there is much more work for us to do ahead.
Fighting climate change is bigger than politics. It requires a collective approach with all of us working together to limit and adapt to its impacts, in a way that leaves no one behind. PG&E recognizes the foundational role clean energy has in enabling this transition, and is making significant progress in doing our part with more than 85 percent of our delivered energy coming from non-emitting resources today. We stand ready to help California–and the nation–reach its bold clean energy goals and provide the safe, reliable, clean and affordable energy our customers expect and deserve.”