Toxic-waste over­sight boosted

New in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor is one of sev­eral changes to state reg­u­la­tory agency in the bud­get.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Tony Bar­boza­

The bud­get signed this week by Gov. Jerry Brown es­tab­lishes an in­de­pen­dent panel to over­see the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Toxic Sub­stances Con­trol af­ter a se­ries of short­com­ings in its reg­u­la­tion of haz­ardouswaste oper­a­tions and cleanups across the state.

The three-per­son re­view panel will mon­i­tor the depart­ment’s progress in im­prov­ing its per­mit­ting, en­force­ment, fis­cal man­age­ment and public out­reach and will re­port back to the gover­nor and Leg­is­la­ture ev­ery 90 days. The mem­bers will in­clude a com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tive, a sci­en­tist with ex­per­tise in toxic ma­te­ri­als and a lo­cal gov­ern­ment ex­pert.

The in­creased over­sight comes in re­sponse to an ar­ray of prob­lems at the depart­ment tasked with en­forc­ing haz­ardous-waste laws and pro­tect­ing peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment from toxic chem­i­cals. Among the flaws re­vealed in re­cent years are lack­lus­ter en­force­ment and over­sight of haz­ardous-waste oper­a­tions, a back­log of ex­pired fa­cil­ity per­mits and a fail­ure to col­lect $194 mil­lion the state is owed by com­pa­nies and other par­ties for clean­ing con­tam­i­nated sites.

In one case, a bat­tery re­cy­cling plant in Ver­non ac­cused of threat­en­ing the health of more than 100,000 peo­ple across south­east Los An­ge­les County with its ar­senic emis­sions was al­lowed to op­er­ate for decades with­out a full per­mit, de­spite a long history of en­vi­ron­men­tal in­frac­tions.

Brown last year ve­toed leg­is­la­tion that would have im­posed broader re­forms to the depart­ment. The de­ci­sion en­raged com­mu­nity groups, who say the depart­ment has re­peat­edly failed to pro­tect peo­ple in some of Cal­i­for­nia’s most pol­luted neigh­bor­hoods and have de­manded stricter over­sight and ac­count­abil­ity.

Gla­dys Li­mon, an at­tor­ney for the en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice group Com­mu­ni­ties for a Bet­ter En­vi­ron­ment, wel­comed the new over­sight panel as a crit­i­cal first step, but said fur­ther changes are needed.

“This depart­ment needs strong re­form, mean­ing­ful over­sight and as­sis­tance to carry out its le­gal man­date to pro­tect thep­ub­lic’s health and safety from haz­ardouswaste pol­luters,” she said.

Two years ago, the toxic sub­stances depart­ment ini­ti­ated a se­ries of in­ter­nal re­forms. Di­rec­tor Bar­bara Lee, who was ap­pointed last fall, has ac­knowl­edged that the depart­ment per­formed poorly in the past and has vowed to fix its prob­lems.

The cre­ation of the over­sight panel was one of sev­eral changes to the toxic sub­stances depart­ment tucked into the bud­get Brown signed Wed­nes­day. Mem­bers will be ap­pointed by the state assem­bly speaker, the Se­nate Rules Com­mit­tee and the gover­nor.

The bud­get in­creases the depart­ment’s fund­ing by $13 mil­lion and adds dozens of new po­si­tions that will fo­cus on im­prov­ing its per­mit­ting and en­force­ment of haz­ardous-waste oper­a­tions.

Some of the ad­di­tional funds will pay for over­sight of a lengthy cleanup of the shut­tered Ex­ide plant and nearby homes con­tam­i­nated by its lead emis­sions. In March, Ex­ide agreed to per­ma­nently close, de­mol­ish and clean up pol­lu­tion from its Ver­non fa­cil­ity to avoid pros­e­cu­tion un­der a deal with the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

The bud­get also for­mal­izes a new as­sis­tant di­rec­tor for en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice ap­pointed last month as part of the toxic sub­stances depart­ment’s re­form ef­forts.

Ana Mas­careñas, a for­mer pol­icy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor at the ad­vo­cacy group Physi­cians for So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity-Los An­ge­les, will serve as om­buds­man and co­or­di­nate the depart­ment’s out­reach to dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties near haz­ardous waste oper­a­tions.

Depart­ment of Toxic Sub­stances Con­trol

EX­IDE’S Ver­non re­cy­cling plant was al­lowed to op­er­ate for decades with­out a full per­mit de­spite a history of en­vi­ron­men­tal in­frac­tions.

Christina House For the Times

PROTESTERS tar­get the Ex­ide plant in 2013. The new state bud­get in­cludes funds to over­see cleanup of the now-closed plant and add jobs to im­prove per­mit­ting and en­force­ment of haz­ardous-waste oper­a­tions.

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