Lawmakers approve Sen. Dodd’s wildfire vegetation management plan

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Legislation from Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, that would place an independent third party such as Cal Fire in charge of overseeing electric utility corporations’ compliance with tree and vegetation-trimming requirements was approved by the full Senate today.

“The public needs to know that there is real, independent oversight, not just someone in an office reviewing paperwork submitted by utilities,” said Sen. Dodd. “This bill will help prevent future wildfires and ultimately reduce costs to ratepayers. Because it is clear that the current standard is not working.”

Under existing law, utilities decide what trees should be trimmed or removed to comply with standards set by the California Public Utilities Commission. However, in numerous instances in recent years, wildfire investigations have determined that vegetation was not adequately cleared from lines and was the cause of destructive fires.

Senate Bill 247 would require Cal Fire to direct utilities on trees and vegetation to be removed and later inspect the work, ensuring it meets requirements. Utilities would have to correct any issues identified by Cal Fire in a timely manner. Separate provisions in the bill would prohibit utilities from diverting maintenance revenue to other purposes and require the utilities to cover the cost of the work performed by Cal Fire.

The bill is one of a half-dozen wildfire or disaster-related bills Sen. Dodd has authored this year. It heads next to the Assembly

Supporters include the California State Association of Counties and the Coalition of California Utility Employees.

“CSAC supports programs that help local communities reduce fire risk,” said Cara B. Martinson, an association senior legislative representative. “Removing vegetation in contact with or nearby utility lines is effective in reducing potential ignitions. SB 247 would help improve current vegetation management near power lines; a critical element of protecting communities in or near fire prone areas.”

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