PG&E Charged With Crimes in 2019 California Wildfire

Pacific Gas & Electric, the troubled utility that has started some of California’s most destructive wildfires, faces new criminal charges, for its role in igniting a 2019 wildfire that burned 120 square miles in Sonoma County north of San Francisco.

The county’s district attorney on Tuesday charged PG&E, which emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors, including recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, in connection with the Kincade Fire. The blaze damaged or destroyed more than 400 buildings and seriously injured six firefighters.

This is the third set of criminal charges filed against PG&E, California’s largest utility. A jury in 2017 convicted PG&E of charges related to five deaths in a gas pipeline explosion seven years earlier. And the utility pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2018 Camp Fire, which was started by its equipment. That fire destroyed the town of Paradise and helped drive PG&E into bankruptcy, where it worked to resolve an estimated $30 billion in wildfire liabilities.

California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that the Kincade Fire had started after high winds knocked a cable from a PG&E tower at the Geysers geothermal field. The fire took 15 days to contain, and the district attorney, Jill Ravitch, described the evacuation required in some towns as the largest ever in Sonoma County, a California wine hub.

If convicted, PG&E could face fines and additional penalties for violating a federal probation that stems from the pipeline explosion case. The company has paid billions of dollars to governments, families, insurance companies and others for disasters caused by its equipment, which regulators have said has often been very poorly maintained.

In a statement on Tuesday, PG&E promised that it would continue upgrading its equipment and carrying out safety practices to protect Californians. The company said it accepted findings that its equipment had caused the Kincade Fire but did not believe it was criminally liable.

“We are saddened by the property losses and personal impacts sustained by our customers and communities in Sonoma County and surrounding areas as a result of the October 2019 Kincade Fire,” the company said. “We do not believe there was any crime here. We remain committed to making it right for all those impacted and working to further reduce wildfire risk on our system.”

The company emerged from bankruptcy last summer, agreeing to pay $13.5 billion to a fund set up to compensate tens of thousands of individuals and families who lost homes in wildfires started by PG&E.

Emerging from bankruptcy allowed the utility to participate in a $20 billion state wildfire fund with California’s other investor-owned utilities to help cover costs of future wildfires.

The utility has been working to improve its equipment, adding weather stations, cameras, micro-grids and sturdier transmission towers and lines. Patricia K. Poppe, who became chief executive of PG&E’s parent company in January, said she had taken the job “to ensure that we care for all those who were harmed, and that we make it safe again in California.”

“We will work around the clock until that is true for all people we are privileged to serve,” she added.

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Don’t Pay Tax Penalties on Money You Took From Retirement Accounts

If you’re using tax preparation software, the document should print out with the word “rollover” entered next to the zero, Mr. Slott said. Someone completing a paper form would need to write in the word “rollover.” That will treat the withdrawal as a nontaxable event. (Usually, R.M.D.s aren’t eligible for rollovers, but the I.R.S. made an exception for 2020.)

Some clients who returned their R.M.D.s have had pleasant surprises on their tax returns, Ms. Costa said. Because their taxable income is lower than it would have been, some were able to deduct medical expenses or even qualify for the federal stimulus payments.

But if the minimum distribution isn’t properly reported as returned, those benefits could evaporate, Ms. Costa said.

“You don’t want to add insult to injury by paying taxes on a distribution that you returned,” she said.

Here are some questions and answers about R.M.D.s:

Is it OK if I kept the retirement withdrawals I made in 2020?

Yes. Returning the money was optional.

Are R.M.D.s waived for 2021?

No. The waiver applied only to withdrawals in 2020.

When do I have to start taking R.M.D.s?

It depends. A federal law passed in 2019 called the SECURE Act, for Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement, raised the starting age for taking R.M.D.s to 72, from 70½.

The new age 72 threshold applies to those who turned 70½ after 2019 — or, put another way, those whose 70th birthday was July 1, 2019, or later. For everyone who turned 70 before that date, the starting age is 70½.

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