Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Lodges Lawsuit Over the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, Citing Violations of State Health and Safety Laws
LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced that she has lodged a lawsuit against Southern California Gas Company for violations of California law in connection with a massive methane leak from its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. In addition to filing suit in her independent capacity as Attorney General, Harris’s lawsuit also includes her client, the California Air Resources Board. The natural gas leak has caused a public health and statewide environmental emergency, which has sickened residents of Porter Ranch and compelled them to relocate.
The lawsuit alleges that Southern California Gas Company violated state health and safety laws by failing to promptly control the release of the natural gas and report the leak to authorities. In addition, the lawsuit cites the environmental threat the uncontrolled release of more than 80,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere poses to California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions and mitigate the pace and effects of climate change.
“The impact of this unprecedented gas leak is devastating to families in our state, our environment, and our efforts to combat global warming. Southern California Gas Company must be held accountable,” said Attorney General Harris. “This gas leak has caused significant damage to the Porter Ranch community as well as our statewide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the impacts of climate change. My office will continue to lead this cross-jurisdictional enforcement action to ensure justice and relief for Californians and our environment.”
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges claims of public nuisance under California Civil Code section 3479 and violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200, et seq.), joining the City and County of Los Angeles’ pending claims. Attorney General Harris’s lawsuit also alleges violations of Health and Safety Code sections 41700 (discharge of air contaminants) and 25510 (hazardous materials release reporting); and Government Code section 12607 (impairment of the State’s natural resources).
The Attorney General seeks relief in the form of injunction, civil penalties, and restitution.
The leak, which was discovered on October 23, 2015, has yet to be abated. The primary component of the leak is methane, which is the second largest component of GHG emissions in California behind carbon dioxide. As of January 8, 2016 – eleven weeks after the leak was discovered – it was estimated that cumulative methane emissions amount to more than two million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (approximately two percent of estimated statewide GHG emissions over the same period), and this cumulative total will grow as the leak continues.
"Attorney General Harris' action today is a significant step in the ongoing effort to hold Southern California Gas accountable, end this public health emergency and assure it never happens again," said Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who filed suit against Southern California Gas Company on December 7.
"This action recognizes the impacts of this ongoing leak on our climate and ensures there’s accountability,” said California Air Resources Board Chair Mary D. Nichols.
Given the critical nature and magnitude of the release, its negative impact on California’s statewide GHG emissions reduction efforts, and the Attorney General’s broad authority to remedy the harms at issue, the Attorney General’s participation in the enforcement action is necessary to ensure that the interests of the people of the State of California are fully represented.
The Attorney General and the California Air Resources Board are in an ideal position to ensure that effective GHG emission mitigation is achieved. Additionally, the Office of the Attorney General is uniquely situated to coordinate multiple agency claims and represent the interests of those agencies, conserving state resources. The Attorney General is already serving a crucial coordinating role, facilitating the exchange of information among the numerous state, federal, and local agencies with jurisdiction over the gas leak.
The Attorney General’s filing complements ongoing actions of the numerous government agencies that are coordinating efforts related to the gas leak. In addition to the Air Resources Board, these agencies include the California Energy Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Also included are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9 and Los Angeles County.