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SoCal Gas Ignoring State Plan for Offsetting Porter Ranch Leak

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Company decides to save itself some money and fix things its own way

Aerial photo of the blown out well in Porter Ranch, 2015. Earthworks

Back in February, when the enormous gas leak in Aliso Canyon was finally plugged, SoCal Gas promised to do everything in its power to offset the disastrous environmental effects of the largest methane release in American history. Seeking to ensure the company followed through with that promise, Governor Jerry Brown had officials with the state's Air Resources Board come up with a step-by-step plan for the company to follow in reducing emissions. Having received a draft of that plan, however, SoCal gas seems to have changed its tune a little. Okay, actually a lot.

George Minter, Regional Vice President of SoCal Gas, writes on the first page of a written response to the ARB's proposed plan:

As you are aware, the ARB explicitly decided not to regulate fugitive emissions, such as those from the leak at Aliso Canyon, a decision confirmed by the ARB on multiple occasions. Thus, any proposed mitigation program from the ARB does not itself impose any legal obligations on SoCal Gas.

Translation: We're going to go ahead and ignore your recommendations because you can't legally make us do anything about any of this.

As the LA Times points out, technically SoCal Gas is right that there is no current law that would force them to comply with the state's recommendations. But given the extraordinary scale of the leak, the impact it had and continues to have on residents of Porter Ranch and surrounding areas, and how much it has negatively affected California's emissions goals, it seems callous for the company to reject state proposals for addressing the problem. And boy has SoCal Gas rejected those proposals.

The plan drafted by the ARB includes recommendations that SoCal Gas focus on cutting methane emissions, which have a much larger effect on climate change than carbon; invest in offsetting opportunities in and around the site of the leak; and act quickly to reduce global emissions, putting a timeline of five to ten years on reduction efforts. SoCal Gas politely declined to follow all of these recommendations.

Most egregiously, the gas company disputed an important measurement of the leak's environmental impact. The ARB wants SoCal Gas to offset the leak according to a metric that accounts for methane's enormous short-term effect on the environment. SoCal Gas, however, wants to use a more traditional measurement that would allow it to spend considerably less money offsetting the emissions. According to a report by KPCC, by the standards SoCal Gas wants to use, the company would achieve only 30% of the emissions mitigation that the state is asking for, saving itself $64 million in the process.

Making matters worse, some environmental activists say even the state's recommendations will not fully offset the enormous damage caused by the leak. Anna Moritz, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told KPCC that "it will be incredibly difficult to mitigate those effects not only on local communities, and the ecology of the area, and the climate... it may be impossible, in fact, to get us back to prior to the leak."

SoCal's rejection of the state's proposals comes amid news that the CEO of parent company Sempra Energy will be receiving a year-end bonus of more than $3 million, bringing her total compensation for 2015 to $16.1 million.

LA City Attorney Mike Feuer has filed a lawsuit against SoCal Gas that would force it to adhere to a state plan for the emissions offset, but the company doesn't seem to worried about the case. As KPCC reports, SoCal Gas recently told shareholders that the value of the gas lost plus emissions mitigation would be just $33 million. For those keeping score at home, that's about the cost of two years worth of pay for Sempra Energy's CEO.