For Immediate Release, December 20, 2007
Contact: David Hogan, (619) 473-8217
Environmental Groups Request Formal Investigation Into
San Diego Gas & Electric’s Role in the 2007 Firestorm
SAN DIEGO, Calif.— Two conservation groups today asked state regulators to open a formal and public investigation into the role of San Diego Gas & Electric and other utilities in the October 2007 fires that scorched Southern California. The request sent by the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club to the California Public Utilities Commission would build on a more limited request for a review of safety rules filed by San Diego Gas in November.
Power lines were the source of several of the October 2007 catastrophic wildfires that left seven people dead and caused more than $1.6 billion in damage claims. CalFire has determined that at least three of the fires were caused by power lines, but has released no details on how the lines contributed to the fires. Two of those fires have been attributed to lines owned by San Diego Gas and are now the subject of lawsuits filed against the company.
“Our goal is to make sure power lines are made safe so that they never again are responsible for fires that do so much harm to people and nature,” said David Hogan, conservation manager with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The conservation groups’ request for an investigation is in response to a petition by the gas company to the utilities commission on November 6, 2007 that requested a review of construction, maintenance, and operational standards for power lines and related facilities in light of the fires. Among other things, the groups asked whether utilities examined their own practices after the tragic fires in 2003 and whether they were implementing the best practices to reduce fire risk prior to the October 2007 fires.
The groups’ request comes at the same time the utilities commission is considering the Sunrise Powerlink, a controversial 150-mile power line that runs through high fire risk areas, including a substantial portion of areas that burned in the two largest fires in California history – the Cedar Fire of 2003 and the Witch Fire of 2007.
Power lines are a major cause of southern California wildfires. Not counting the October 2007 fires, 17 percent of all areas burned in San Diego County since 1960 were from fires that originated from power lines. The 2007 Witch Fire appears to have been started by an existing power line in the same location San Diego Gas & Electric has proposed to construct the Sunrise Powerlink. Two high-voltage power lines similar to the proposed Sunrise Powerlink fell in 2006, and gas company experts testified that these would have started fires had they been fallen in flammable vegetation.
“We agree with San Diego Gas & Electric that power-line fires pose a significant and immediate threat to public safety and the natural environment,” said Hogan. “The difference is that we’ve asked state regulators to go further and conduct a formal investigation into the relationship between the 2007 fires and power lines and to make any changes to prevent a repeat of these disasters. We’ve also asked that the investigation and results be opened to the public, and that the public have an opportunity to consider conclusions of the investigation when commenting on the Sunrise Powerlink. We need an independent investigation because San Diego Gas & Electric is facing significant liability for the fires and there’s an inherent conflict of interest if the company were to investigate its own practices.”
The groups’ request to investigate the role of utilities in the October firestorm can be viewed at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/sprawl/sunrise-powerlink.html.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 40,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.