PORTER RANCH (CBSLA.com/AP) — The legal fight continued to grow Wednesday against Southern California Gas Company.
On Tuesday evening, dozens of Porter Ranch residents — many who have been affected by the ongoing natural gas leak — attended a packed meeting where accusations of price gouging were made against the gas company.
During the meeting, customers stated they believe the raise in costs has appeared to possibly off-set the cost associated with the disaster.
However, the California Public Utilities Commission has not approved of any such change.
Commissioners said they agree with SoCal Gas Co. that the spikes are primarily due to cold weather and increased usage.
State regulators will investigate the rate increases.
Meanwhile, the company will be defending itself against a lawsuit that was just filed by top prosecutors in Los Angeles County.
LA County’s District Attorney Jackie Lacey filed misdemeanor criminal charges Tuesday against Southern California Gas Co. for failing to immediately report the natural gas leak that has been gushing nonstop nearly 15 weeks.
Lacey said the charges aren’t a solution to the problem, but the gas company needs to be held responsible for the leak that has uprooted more than 4,400 families.
The charges came the same day the state Attorney General Kamala Harris joined a long line of others in suing the gas company for the blowout that has spewed more than 2 million tons of climate-changing methane since October.
The criminal complaint charges the company with three counts of failing to report the release of a hazardous material and one count of discharge of air contaminants.
The company said in a statement that it will vigorously defend itself in court. Arraignment is scheduled Feb. 17.
If convicted, the company could be fined up to $1,000 per day for air pollution violations and up to $25,000 for each of the three days it didn’t notify the state Office of Emergency Services of the leak.
The company said it discovered the leak Oct. 23 and notified state regulators.
But it failed to let state emergency officials know until Oct. 26, Harris said in the latest of more than two dozen lawsuits filed against SoCalGas.
The leak has created a public health and statewide environmental emergency, Harris said. The lawsuit, which doesn’t specify damages, said the company created a nuisance and violated health and safety codes and the state’s unfair competition law.
SoCal Gas Co. is also facing potential class-action lawsuits from residents and businesses as well as suits from regional air regulators and city and county authorities.
Crews expect to cap the gas leak by the end of this month.
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