SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Lawyers for Pacific Gas & Electric said the utility can’t commit to hiring hundreds more tree trimmers in the way that a federal judge wants to cut the risk of starting more catastrophic wildfires in California.
U.S. District Judge William Alsap ordered the utility last month to add at least 1,100 more tree trimmers to help prevent trees and branches from falling onto its power lines and igniting. The judge is overseeing PG&E’s criminal probation imposed after its natural gas lines blew up a San Francisco Bay Area neighborhood and killed eight people in 2010. He has taken a strong interest in PG&E’s safety record after the company’s power lines started a series of wildfires that killed 130 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
Attorneys for PG&E said in court filings Monday that the company is unable to provide a deadline by which it will hire a set number of new contracted workers to cut trees and branches around power lines. They argued they shouldn’t be forced into hiring a set number of people for “a single part of its multi-faceted wildfire safety efforts.”
PG&E’s filing said the company has about 5,500 tree trimmers and plans to train about 2,800 more next year. But the company wants to use that pool of newly trained workers partly to replace out-of-state contractors who were hired at a premium.
The workforce more than tripled in 2019 when PG&E needed to finish a high amount of trimming in the last few months of the year. The company doesn’t think it is necessary or financially wise to retain that level of contractors constantly when it could instead spread the work throughout the year.