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Utility charged in Calif. gas leak

| Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, 10:18 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles prosecutors filed misdemeanor criminal charges Tuesday against a utility for failing to immediately report a natural gas leak that has been gushing nonstop for nearly 15 weeks.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the charges aren't a solution to the problem, but Southern California Gas Co. 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 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.

Lawmakers in Congress have urged the U.S. secretary of Energy to investigate the leak, and federal regulators are crafting new safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities.

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 didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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 gas and oil regulators.

But it failed to let state emergency officials know until Oct. 26, Attorney General Kamala 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, says the company created a nuisance and violated health and safety codes and the state's unfair competition law.

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