LA prosecutors file charges against SoCal Gas for slow reporting of gas leak

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles prosecutors have filed misdemeanor charges against Southern California Gas Company for the slow reporting of the natural gas leak that has driven thousands of residents of the northern San Fernando Valley from their homes.

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.

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 and fined $1,000 per day for air pollution violations, prosecutors said.

A statement from SoCal in response to the announcement read in part: "We have been working with regulatory agencies to mitigate the odors associated with the natural gas leak and to abate the gas leak as quickly as safety allows. We will defend ourselves vigorously through the judicial process."

An arraignment is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 17 in Santa Clarita.

Previously on Tuesday, State Attorney General Kamala Harris also filed a lawsuit against SoCal Gas for the leak.

Harris added her name to a lengthy list of government agencies and private citizens suing the utility over the leak at its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, which was first observed on Oct. 23.

The lawsuit says the more than 80,000 metric tons of methane released into the atmosphere threatens California's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas and slow the pace of climate change. It also alleges the utility violated state health and safety laws by failing to control the gas leak and report it to authorities.

"The impact of this unprecedented gas leak is devastating to families in our state, our environment, and our efforts to combat global warming," Harris said. "Southern California Gas Company must be held accountable."

SoCal Gas declined comment on the suit other than to say the company is "working hard to both stop the leak and address our neighbors' concerns."

Thousands of families in the Porter Ranch area have been moved out of their homes because of odor and health concerns.

Also Tuesday, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander submitted a resolution calling on the state to investigate steep rate increases that SoCal Gas customers across Los Angeles County found this month when they opened their bills. Englander said local residents have reported receiving bills of four to six times higher than their usual rate this year. He believes the utility may be passing on costs of its gas leak response to its customers.

"This bill spiking comes at a time when SoCal is experiencing a major disaster at its Aliso Canyon facility," Englander said. "I am simply not buying that these two incidents are not related. It appears that the entire Los Angeles basin is now feeling the effects of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak."

City News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2021 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.