California Toughens PG&E Wildfire Safety Oversight

California officials on Thursday voted to toughen oversight of Pacific Gas & Electric, saying the utility had largely failed to perform required tree-trimming work near power lines in areas with the highest risk of wildfires.

The unanimous vote by the California Public Utilities Commission comes as the fire-prone state has stepped up scrutiny of utility efforts to mitigate wildfire risk. Climate change is fueling increasingly frequent and intense blazes in the state that are often ignited by power infrastructure.

California Plans $536M for Wildfire Mitigation Before Fire Season

California will authorize $536 million for wildfire mitigation and forest management projects before the worst of the fire season strikes later this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders said.

That more than doubles $200 million in recent annual spending, advocates said, and wildfire preparedness grants were dropped entirely last year when the state prematurely anticipated a pandemic-driven budget shortfall.

Armed now with an unexpected multi-billion-dollar surplus, lawmakers plan to add the money to this fiscal year’s budget before considering even more in the new spending plan that takes effect July 1.

La Niña Is Fading But California, Gulf Coast Still Face Risks

La Niña, the cooling of the equatorial Pacific that shifts weather patterns the world over, is fading away. But California may still be prone to dryness, and the U.S. Gulf Coast faces the risk of another busy hurricane season.

Water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean will likely return to normal in the next few months, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said in a recent report.

Three Dozen California Bills Focus on Wildfire, Others Are Concerning for Insurance Industry

Roughly three dozen pieces of California legislation are directly related to wildfire, and while those bills should hold much interest for the insurance community, there are other bills making their rounds that should draw a great deal of concern.

So far 2,369 bills have been introduced in state Legislature this year, according to John Norwood of Norwood Associates, an industry lobbyist who also represents the California Insurance Wholesalers Association.

Norwood said he’s by encouraged by all the attention California’s wildfires are getting.

Judge Considering Requiring PG&E in California to Turn off Power More Often

A federal judge overseeing Pacific Gas & Electric’s criminal probation said Tuesday that he is considering requiring the utility to be more aggressive about turning off its electricity lines near tall trees, a plan that could double the number of power outages for some Northern California counties over the next decade.

The proposal outlined during a two-hour court hearing is the latest effort to prevent the utility’s equipment from sparking more deadly wildfires by reducing the likelihood that trees could fall into the utility’s long-neglected electrical equipment. U.S. District Judge William Alsup is overseeing PG&E’s safety precautions as part of the utility’s criminal probation after its natural gas lines blew up a suburban neighborhood south of San Francisco in 2010.

California Wildfire Sparked When Tree Hit Power Line, Report Shows

A Northern California wildfire that killed four people and destroyed more than 200 buildings last year was sparked when tree branches came into contact with Pacific Gas & Electric power lines, officials said in a report.

Investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection seized equipment belonging to PG&E in the weeks after the Zogg Fire tore through rural communities in Shasta and Tehama counties last September and October.

California County Adding Artificial Intelligence for Wildfires

Sonoma County officials say they will add artificial intelligence technology to help fight wildfires with a 24-7 monitor to track fire outbreaks.

The technology will be added to the county’s network of wildfire detection cameras that monitor California’s backcountry to spot the first outbreak of flames. Many of the cameras are affixed to existing radio communication towers.

“This early detection technology will provide emergency managers and first responders with round-the-clock monitoring, a sophisticated addition we are excited to add to our alert and warning toolkit,” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins said.

Report: California Comp Virus Claim Volume Plummeted in February

The wave of COVID-19 claims that hit the California workers’ compensation system at the end of 2020 has subsided for the time being as the number of claims reported to the state Division of Workers’ Compensation for February fell to the lowest level in a year, an analysis by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute Shows.

The CWCI report shows the projected ultimate claim count for February came in at 4,533 cases, down nearly 90% from the record 43,158 claims projected for December.

The figures from CWCI’s COVID-19/Non-COVID-19 Interactive Application show that after surging to an all-time high in December, the monthly COVID-19 claim count fell by more than 50% in January, a decrease that coincided with the steep drop in new coronavirus cases in the state.

Study Shows NASIDs Growing in California Workers’ Comp

A new study shows that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) now account for more than one-third of all drugs dispensed to injured workers in California, triple the proportion for opioids.

A study from the California Workers’ Compensation Institute released on Wednesday also shows that although most NSAIDs that are used are inexpensive, and utilization has been flat since the state’s evidence-based prescription drug formulary took effect in 2018, NSAIDs’ share of the total drug spend has soared from 14.2% to 23.5%.

The surge was largely driven by increased payments for two low-volume, high-priced drugs that are exempt from prospective utilization review and that lack price controls, according to the CWCI study.

Increasing California Landslide Risk Prompts USGS Study

It’s been well documented that wildfires in California and elsewhere are becoming more frequent and more intense, and climatologists say the warming atmosphere assures that this is the new normal. That trend also means different patterns of precipitation — perhaps the same annual rainfall totals but more intense patterns of precipitation during certain periods.

What this all adds up to is more wildfires followed by more landslides like the one that struck the city of Montecito in Santa Barbara County in January 2018. That event produced debris flows so robust they killed 23 people despite warnings.

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