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PG&E agrees to $13.5 billion payout for deadly California fires

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California’s Pacific Gas and Electric will pay $13.5 billion to settle lawsuits over its role in a series of wildfires that killed scores of people and destroyed thousands of homes, the utility giant said Friday.

Faulty PG&E powerlines were blamed for sparking last year’s so-called Camp Fire in northern California — the deadliest in the state’s history — that left 86 people dead.

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Outdated facilities including vulnerable wooden poles and failure to deforest land surrounding high-voltage transmission lines were blamed for the inferno, prompting accusations the San Francisco-based firm had put profit before safety.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection in January, saying it faced more than $30 billion in claims over the blaze.

It was also sued over three other fires dating back to 2015, including one that devastated the state’s wine region and killed more than 40 people two years ago.

The settlement would allow PG&E to come out of bankruptcy protection before a government deadline set for next June, the company said in a statement.

“We want to help our customers, our neighbors and our friends in those impacted areas recover and rebuild after these tragic wildfires,” said chief executive Bill Johnson.

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“There have been many calls for PG&E to change in recent years. PG&E’s leadership team has heard those calls for change, and we realize we need to do even more to be a different company now and in the future,” he added.

The settlement will require approval by a bankruptcy court before it can proceed.

PG&E has faced a litany of legal problems in recent decades, including 737 counts of criminal negligence over failing to trim trees near power lines following a big fire in 1994.

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Regulators with the California Public Utilities Commission found that the utility diverted $77.6 million from its tree-trimming budget to other uses, according to a lawsuit filed over a 2015 blaze in Butte County.

“During that same time, PG&E underspent its authorized budgets for maintaining its systems by $495 million and instead, used this money to boost corporate profits,” according to that claim.

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The company was also fined $1.6 billion over a 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California that killed eight and injured 58.


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2020 Election

Frontrunner Bernie Sanders was the center of attention at the #DemDebate

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Democratic White House hopefuls rounded on leftist frontrunner Bernie Sanders at a feisty debate Tuesday, attacking him as too extreme for American voters and a flawed challenger to President Donald Trump.

Joe Biden, who needs a victory in South Carolina's crucial primary on Saturday to keep his campaign alive, hit Sanders as soft on gun control, while billionaire tycoon Michael Bloomberg claimed Russia was working to help Sanders win the nomination -- betting he would be defeated in November.

And Sanders' rivals joined in savaging the self-described democratic socialist as too radical to appeal to a broad swathe of Americans.

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Heavy selling in Asian markets as COVID-19 coronavirus threatens the global economy

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A sea of red washed across Asian markets on Wednesday, with the coronavirus spreading rapidly around the world and health chiefs warning that governments were not prepared for the outbreak.

The heavy selling, after a day of relative calm caused by bargain-buying, followed another rout on Wall Street where all three main indexes lost around three percent after officials said COVID-19 would likely take hold in the United States.

With cases being reported in new countries -- and lockdowns in some nations including Austria, Italy and Spain -- traders are growing increasingly fearful about the impact on the global economy.

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2020 Election

Biden campaign walks back the VP’s stump speech tale about being arrested trying to visit Nelson Mandela

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Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign walked back a tale that he has repeatedly told on the campaign trail.

On Friday, The New York Times reported Biden had told similar versions of the same story "at least three campaign appearances over the past two weeks."

“This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” Biden claimed. “I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island.”

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