Kent Penwarden Public safety pandemic shutdown (PSPS)

PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric Company) recently sent out a mailer entitled “Public Safety Power Shutoff,” in which their customers are warned, “Prepare now for wildfire season.”

Nevada County is currently faced with twin potential disasters, wildfires and a pandemic. The parallels are striking. Comparison can be made between the past response of PG&E to the situation in which they found themselves and the present response the governments of California and the United States in which they find themselves.

PG&E was found guilty of criminal negligence in many cases involving fires. These include the 2018 Camp Fire, among others. PG&E equipment has often been the cause of wildfires in California. PG&E disasters killed 117 people last decade. State law holds PG&E responsible for damages resulting from any fire caused by their equipment. This policy resulted in $30 billion of liability for PG&E from the 2017 and 2018 fires and drove it to bankruptcy proceedings.

In other words, PG&E was negligent and irresponsible to its customers in being unprepared for wildfires caused by their equipment and operations.

The 2019 California public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events, were massive preemptive power shutoffs performed by the electric utility companies that were an attempt to prevent wildfires and subsequent financial liabilities.

Likewise the United States government and the state of California have been criminally negligent in their being unprepared for the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus, which has lead to the deaths of 150,000 citizens in six months and shows no sign of abating. Compare that to the lives lost in fires caused by PG&E.

While other nations throughout the world managed to immediately shutdown their societies and economies to control the spread of the virus, our governments have been irresponsible, late, timid, and inconsistent in their facing the threat of the pandemic. There is no national response policy guiding the nation in the face of this pandemic. The CDC is, after all, the national Center for Disease Control. Responsibility for response to the pandemic was shifted from the national government down to the state and county governments, which were ill-prepared to handle the emergency. The evasion of national responsibility even created competition among the states for scarce resources.

While it is better to be late than never, PG&E is at least attempting to face the reality of the conditions existing in the areas they serve. It is a better choice for their customers to experience the inconvenience of power loss for a few days than to live in fear of loss of home and life in the event of wildfires. This PSPS short-term solution can be readily implemented while longer-term hardening of electrical power distribution infrastructure is undertaken.

What is required is an equivalent response to the pandemic from the leaders of the United States government, a response that is consistent and bold to limit the spread of this maleficent pathogen.

We need a national response that will allow all its citizens to be safe again. The prime responsibility of the United States government is to defend the safety of its citizens. We need a response that will allow a robust reopening of the economy and the schools only when it is safe to do so.

We need a “Public Safety Pandemic Shutdown,” where our governments provide for all its citizens the economic means to shelter in place long enough to slow down the spread of the virus and to develop the medical means of testing and treating its health effects.

Kent Penwarden lives in Grass Valley.

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