LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Los Angeles County prosecutors filed misdemeanor criminal charges against Southern California Gas Co. today for allegedly failing to immediately report the Porter Ranch gas leak to state authorities.
“While we recognize that neither the criminal charges nor the civil lawsuits will offer the residents of Los Angeles County a complete solution, it is important that Southern California Gas Co. be held responsible for its criminal actions,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said.
“We will do everything we can as prosecutors to help ensure that the Aliso Canyon facility is brought into compliance,” she said. “I believe we can best serve our community using the sanctions available through a criminal conviction to prevent similar public health threats in the future.”
The company was charged with three counts of failing to report the release of hazardous materials from Oct. 23 to Oct. 26, and one count of discharging air contaminants, beginning Oct. 23 and continuing through today.
The charges are all misdemeanors.
If convicted, the company could be fined up to $25,000 a day for each day it failed to notify the state Office of Emergency Services about the leak. It could be fined up to $1,000 per day for air pollution violations, prosecutors said.
Arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 17 in Santa Clarita.
California’s attorney general also added her name Tuesday to the long list of parties suing a utility company for the massive leak that has driven thousands of Los Angeles residents from their homes and spewed more than 2 million tons of climate-changing methane.
Attorney General Kamala Harris said Southern California Gas Co. violated several state laws and failed to report the leak to the necessary agencies for three days after its discovery in October near Porter Ranch.
The leak that has been out of control nearly 15 weeks has created a public health and statewide environmental emergency, Harris said.
L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer filed suit against SoCal Gas in December, alleging that the utility “did not report the leak immediately as required by law, and instead waited days to inform the proper authorities, including the Certified Unified Program Agency.”
The company has disputed characterizations that it dallied in informing authorities of the leak, saying the utility “immediately took steps to address the leak and inform the appropriate regulatory agencies” and communicated on a daily basis with state and local officials “from the outset.”
SoCal Gas is facing more than two dozen lawsuits — including potential class-actions from residents and businesses over the leak as well as from regional air regulators and city and county authorities.
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