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Public Officials Announce $119.5 Million Settlement Against SoCalGas Over Aliso Canyon Violations

“I was disappointed today. It was a slap in the face to Porter Ranch.”

L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, L.A. Councilman Mitchell Englander, and L.A. City Mayor Eric Garcetti

“I was disappointed today. It was a slap in the face to Porter Ranch,” said Becky Leveque, resident of Porter Ranch, about the consent decree issued this week against SoCalGas.

Many local residents echoed her feelings about the tentative $119.5 million settlement announced by state, county and city officials this week to address violations occurring as a result of the October 2015 blowout at Aliso Canyon.

Penalties are to be assessed against SoCalGas, the operator of the well that caused the massive blowout. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Councilman Mitchell Englander, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger discussed the specifics of the settlement at a press conference held in downtown Los Angeles this week.

The fines and penalties are being assessed due to violations of California public nuisance codes, violations of California Health and Safety codes, failure to timely report the release of hazardous material, violation of business sector and professional codes, and the release of greenhouse gases.

The attorney general emphasized that this settlement doesn’t cover the residents’ lawsuits filed against SoCalGas. He added that the California Public Utilities Commission may also file additional fines against the gas company.

One major allotment will be $45.4 million that will go toward projects, at the discretion of the governmental entities in a section entitled “Supplemental Environmental Projects ” (SEPs).

Among the items included in that allotment will be the much requested long term health study for at least a three year period for residents affected by the blowout. The allotted amount will be $25 million, which is less than the $35 million determined by a panel of health experts in 2016 to be a minimum needed to start such a study. There were some inconsistencies among the officials at the press conference as to the amount. Supervisor Barger said the department of Public Health was in favor of that amount, and that was the “full ask.” City Attorney Feuer said the amount would be “up to $25 million.” Attorney General Becerra said that if data was showing during yearly reviews that more time and money was needed for the study, other money can be obtained, either from any remaining funds from the mitigation portion of the settlement, or from the state legislature.

Another item included in the SEPs and requested by the affected communities was an independent air monitoring system for at least eight years. $3 million will be provided from the fines paid out by SoCalGas. In the consent decree, it does say that among the components being tested will be BTEX compounds, which are benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. Besides the one to be installed by the Aliso facility, one or more systems will be installed in at least one community designated as an “Environmental Justice Community.”

Other programs to be funded by this portion of the settlement will include $7.1 million to fund air filitration systems at schools in the city or county of Los Angeles that are determined to be in “Environmental Justice Communities”. As well as up to three electric Breathmobile mobile asthma clinics for areas most heavily impacted by air pollution at a cost of $2 million, and purchase of electric school buses for school districts within the County of Los Angeles for a cost of $3 million. In addition, $5.2 million will go to Boyle Heights and Maywood for abating lead-based paint from residential homes in order to mitigate the effects from releases from the Exide battery recycling facility.

There was a catchall section of this allotment for funding additional projects relating to public health or the environment. The requirement is that any project must reduce air pollutants, toxic air contaminants or greenhouse emissions in Southern California. The project must not benefit SoCalGas or other companies under the Sempra umbrella.

SoCalGas will also be expected to form an internal safety committee, and hire an independent ombudsman to attend the committee meetings, examine its reports, attend town halls in the community at least once a year, and finally prepare an annual written report.

The civil penalties listed in the settlement amount to $21 million. $19 million will go toward the legal costs and investigative fees to be divided between the California Air Resources Board, California Department of Justice, the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney and the County of Los Angeles.

As for the part of the settlement that is raising the ire of many residents, besides the insufficient funding for the health study, is a $26.5 million mitigation fund, which will be invested in collection of methane emissions from dairy farms. SoCalGas plans to convert the methane into biomethane, and has already been collecting bids for this project. Residents have been questioning why SoCalGas will be rewarded with seed money for this project from fines collected as a result of its violations.

Among those voicing concerns to the settlement are State Senator Henry Stern, who represents much of the area affected by Aliso, and Christy Smith, who is running for the assembly district which includes the facility. Senator Stern stated in his press release, “There are better ways to spend these dollars locally that would offset the damage done by the blowout and reduce our dependence on this dangerous and expensive gas field. We are building tens of thousands of gas-fired homes in the region, which will only deepen our dependence on Aliso. Why not offer those who have suffered the opportunity to make a better life?”

Becerra and others at the press conference pointed out that SoCalGas will be prohibited from passing the cost of the settlement onto to rateholders.

There will be a period for public comment regarding mitigation through September 12: https://www.arb.ca.gov/lispub/comm2/bcsubform.php?listname=alisomitigation-ws&comm_period=1

After the comment period is over, a judge will finalize the settlement.

Here is the proposed consent decree: https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press-docs/notice-lodging-and-proposed-cd-full.pdf