Power Cut For 800,000 California Residents In Attempt to Avoid Wildfires

In California, troubled utility Pacific Gas & Electric announced it  would cut off power to about 800,000 customers in an attempt to avoid wildfires that are caused when strong winds damage power equipment.

In California, troubled utility Pacific Gas & Electric announced it  would cut off power to about 800,000 customers in an attempt to avoid wildfires that are caused when strong winds damage power equipment. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Montgomery elects first black mayor … Rule changes for lawmakers with disabilities in Wisconsin … New York County asks for state oversight of air quality.

In California, troubled utility Pacific Gas & Electric announced it  would cut off power to about 800,000 customers in an attempt to avoid wildfires that are caused when strong winds damage power equipment. The blackout will largely impact counties in northern and central California, but some customers in other areas of the state would be impacted as well. “It is very possible that customers may be affected by a power shut-off even though they are not experiencing extreme weather conditions in their specific location. This is because the electric system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties and regions,” the company said in a statement. PG&E is operating out of an abundance of caution, given that a utility malfunction last year resulted in last year’s Camp fire, which destroyed 14,000 residences and killed 85 people, making it the deadliest wildfire in California history. (PG&E is currently trying to restructure in bankruptcy proceedings.) Local government officials, including Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, said that they are not surprised by the announcement, but are worried about those who need power more than others. “It is a very blunt way of approaching the situation, but at the same time, there’s an understanding of why it’s being undertaken. We have vulnerable populations, our elderly and young children. We’re mostly concerned about them,” he said. In Southern California, another power company, Edison, announced that it too was considering preemptive power outages due to strong winds, which could affect an additional 106,000 residences. PG&E and Edison have come under fire recently for letting their electric grids go without maintenance for years, which some say is a primary reason for the repeated fires. State Sen. Jerry Hill said that the situation is not acceptable. “I think it is excessive. PG&E clearly hasn’t made its system safe. These shut-downs are supposed to be surgical. But shutting down power to 800,000 people in 31 counties is by no means surgical,” he said. Michael Wara, director of Stanford University’s climate and energy policy program, said that the companies will need to work on the grids in the future. “Power shut-offs in the face of really widespread dangerous fire weather, which is what we’re confronting, may be the best thing we can do for the time being. In the long run, PG&E needs to fix its grid. And so does Edison ... so they can use power shut-offs as a more limited tool like a scalpel rather than the blunt instrument they have now,” he said. [San Francisco Chronicle; Los Angeles Times; San Jose Mercury News]

FIRST BLACK MAYOR | Montgomery, Alabama elected its first black mayor on Tuesday, almost 200 years after the majority-black city was first incorporated. Steven Reed won with 67% of the vote, defeating David Woods, a white TV station owner. Before this, Montgomery was one of only three cities with a population over 100,000 in the Deep South that had never elected a black mayor. “This election has never been about me. This election has never been about just my ideas. It’s been about all the hopes and dreams that we have as individuals and collectively in this city,” Reed said in his victory speech. Local residents, including Pastor Nettles of the Freewill Missionary Baptist Church, said that a young mayor (Reed is 45) will bring a new perspective to city politics. “We are so caught up in our past. There’s a generation that’s older than him. They can’t seem to get past the politics and status quo of the past. They’re still locked in a particular mind-set,” he said. [Montgomery Advertiser; New York Times

LAWMAKERS WITH DISABILITIES | In Wisconsin, Republican legislators are proposing a series of rule changes, including one that would allow lawmakers with disabilities to call into committee meetings. The rule change was proposed to accomodate a Democratic legislator who is paralyzed from the waist down and last year requested the rule that requires legislators to appear in person at committee meetings to be adjusted. But that lawmaker, Rep. Jimmy Anderson, said he doesn’t support the legislative package with the rule change because it also includes a provision giving the legislature unlimited attempts to overrule gubernatorial vetoes. "If my Republican colleagues were serious about wanting to be considerate about my disability accommodations, they probably should have had a set of rules that are separate from these other rules," Anderson said. Republicans also didn't include Anderson in their discussions about the accommodation, which he called "offensive, disappointing and frankly really frustrating." Anderson said that Republicans only included the change after he hired an attorney from Disability Rights Wisconsin, who sent Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos a letter saying the legislature was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Vos had previously refused to accommodate Anderson’s request to call in, saying it would be disrespectful to those attending hearings in person. Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke still said the rule changes were “breaking new ground” for people with disabilities. "We're setting standards I think can be duplicated in statehouses across the country,” he said. [Associated Press; Wisconsin Public Radio]

AIR QUALITY | Rensselaer County, New York, which borders Albany, is asking the state health department to monitor air quality to find out if a local landfill is emitting harmful contaminants. Residents say they have been pleading with the state for years to enact stricter oversight regulations of the landfill, which they say emits foul odors and is next to a local high school. "We shouldn't have to be chasing this thing down … Air monitors should have been in the place before the dump even started,” said Rensselaer County Legislature Chairman Michael Stammel. The landfill has been fined by the state before for dust clouds, and was forced to hire an on-site monitor to ensure they are complying with regulations. But some residents, including Judy Stasack, said that hasn’t been enough. "People have been complaining of these odors, the eye, nose and throat irritation. It actually wakes people up at night. It's hard for people to keep their windows open when the odor is coming in,” she said. [CBS Albany; Albany Times Union

AUTISM SUPPORT | Delaware Gov. John Carney announced new state assistance for the Delaware Autism Program, which had been suspended earlier this month for excessive costs. The program assists parents by providing care and support services for autistic children, who may not be able to attend school or work with ordinary babysitters. Christina School District, which operates the statewide program, also agreed to additional state oversight of their administration to help with management issues. “We have heard from Delaware families and members of the General Assembly about the hardship created by Christina School District’s unexpected suspension of the respite program...In coordination with members of the General Assembly, we have reached an agreement to fund the program, lift the suspension of family services, and closely monitor Christina’s ongoing management of the program. We need to step up for these families who need our help. That’s simply the right thing to do,” Carney said. [Delaware Public Media]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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