Beyond The County: CHP officer arrested for child porn; $4M gas leak settlement | TheUnion.com
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Beyond The County: CHP officer arrested for child porn; $4M gas leak settlement

Protesters carry signs and an image of California's Gov. Jerry Brown while demanding a shut down of the Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon Storage Facility near Porter Ranch in Los Angeles.
Associated Press | AP

Prosecutor reaches $4M settlement for gas leak

LOS ANGELES — A utility that owns a well that leaked massive amounts of natural gas and drove thousands of families from their Los Angeles homes pleaded no contest to a criminal charge Tuesday as part of a $4 million settlement with prosecutors.

The deal requires Southern California Gas Co. to adopt a leak-monitoring system at its Aliso Canyon facility that goes beyond federal and state requirements, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said.



“The protections put in place by this agreement create a safer facility for its employees, the environment and the surrounding communities,” Lacey said in a statement.

The company pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of failing to immediately report the gas leak to state officials when it was discovered Oct. 23. The utility waited three days before notifying the state Office of Emergency Services, prosecutors said.




The well that wasn’t plugged until February led more than 8,000 families to move out of their homes in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley. Many experienced headaches, nosebleeds and nausea during the event that scientists said was the largest known release of climate-changing methane in U.S. history.

Health experts attributed the maladies to an odorant added to methane to make it detectable and, possibly, to trace chemicals included in natural gas.

Residents and some environmental and consumer groups have called for the shutdown of Aliso Canyon, which is the largest natural gas storage facility west of the Mississippi River, saying it is not necessary to provide power to Southern California.

The company and some state agencies, however, have said it’s essential in providing gas to fuel power plants during energy spikes in summer and providing home heating in winter. They warned of blackouts this summer and in the future if it doesn’t return to full operation. So far, those haven’t happened.

As the state investigates the cause of the leak, SoCalGas has been in the process of putting more than 100 aging underground wells through a battery of tough tests that only about a fifth have passed to date, according to state records.

SoCalGas issued a statement saying the settlement was “another important step in our efforts to put the leak behind us and to win back the trust of the community.”

The settlement includes the maximum fine of $75,000, plus a penalty of $232,000 and more than $245,000 for a hazardous materials investigation by Los Angeles County firefighters.

The financial brunt of the settlement, though, will come from the installation and maintenance of an infrared leak-detection system that will cost more than $1 million and require more than $2 million to staff and monitor with six full-time employees over the next three years.

Alexandra Nagy, an organizer with Food & Water Watch, said the monitors will do nothing to stop any future leaks.

“No fine can make SoCalGas’ aging Aliso Canyon Storage Facility safe,” Nagy said in a statement. “This fine is barely a slap on the wrist for SoCalGas, whose parent company made $10 billion in revenue last year.”

Brown signs bill banning SeaWorld orca shows

SACRAMENTO — California Gov. Jerry Brown is approving legislation requiring SeaWorld to follow through on its plan to end killer whale breeding and entertainment shows.

The Democratic governor said Tuesday he’s signed a budget bill codifying SeaWorld’s plans in state law.

A provision if SB839 makes it a crime for an individual or corporation to breed orcas in captivity, punishable by a fine of up to $100,000.

SeaWorld announced in March that it was no longer breeding orcas and would stop making whales do tricks at its amusement parks. The company plans to focus instead on the educational opportunities with its existing whales.

The new orca displays will begin next year at SeaWorld’s San Diego park, before expanding to its other two parks by 2019.

CHP officer arrested for distributing child pornography

AUBURN, Calif. — Authorities say they have arrested a California Highway Patrol officer on suspicion of transmitting child pornography.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office says 54-year-old Patrick Francis Cooney Jr. was arrested by sheriff’s detectives Monday at his home in Auburn. Deputies say his home was searched and electronic devices seized under a search warrant as part of an ongoing investigation.

He was booked into Placer County Jail and his bail set at $50,000.

No telephone number was listed for Cooney and officials could not immediately say if he has an attorney.

The CHP says Cooney has been put on paid administrative leave and his peace officer powers have been revoked.

The Placer County District Attorney’s Office says it is reviewing his case. His next court date is October 24.

Brown vetoes ‘tampon tax’ bill, 6 others

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown says he’s vetoing seven bills that would have carved out special tax breaks, including legislation that would have made California the latest state to scrap so-called tampon taxes on feminine hygiene products.

The Democratic governor said Tuesday that it’s not right to create new tax breaks or expand existing ones that together add up to $300 million a year in state revenue.

Brown says tax breaks are the same as new spending, because both cost the state money. He says if lawmakers want to add tax breaks, they should consider them during annual budget deliberations.

Other tax breaks that Brown announced vetoing include a proposal to eliminate sales tax on diapers and forgiving personal income taxes on mortgage debt for underwater homes.

Snow in the Sierras makes summer look like more like winter

KIRKWOOD, Calif. — Snow in the Sierra made Tuesday morning look more like winter than the tail end of summer.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports light snow fell at Kirkwood Mountain Resort near Lake Tahoe, where a cold front sent temperatures dipping into the 30s.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Brian O’Hara says there was a dusting of snow in the mountains and at Kirkwood, which sits above 7,800 feet.

Closer to the San Francisco Bay Area, light sprinkles were reported in the Santa Cruz Mountains


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