Regional air regulators sued the Southern California Gas Co. on Tuesday, seeking penalties that could surpass $25 million for a monthslong natural gas leak that is blamed for sickening neighbors and has prompted a mass evacuation of Porter Ranch, a San Fernando Valley neighborhood.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District sued the utility for creating a public nuisance. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, further contends that "as a result of their negligence, people were injured," said Kurt Wiese, the agency's general counsel.
The gas company does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd said.
The gas company could be liable for up to $250,000 in civil penalties for each day of the leak if the lawsuit ends with a determination that the utility knowing violated state law, failed to act quickly and caused great bodily injury to the public, Wiese said. That works out to about $25 million to date.
The utility has been under intense criticism and regulatory scrutiny for a leak in an underground storage well at the huge Aliso Canyon storage facility. It was first reported on Oct. 23, and the gas company has said it may not be able to plug the leak until late next month.
On Jan. 6, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared the leak of natural gas a state of emergency. Last week Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the upscale community, home to many affluent immigrants, is “like a crime scene” and said that the gas company should be held accountable.