Liza Tucker

Another View: Toxic waste watchdog rewards serial polluter

Published: Sunday, Jul. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2E

The state's top toxics regulator just pulled a fast one on a farming community suffering birth defects and infant deaths.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control signaled it would grant a serial toxic polluter – Chemical Waste Management – a permit to expand its operations greatly at the controversial Kettleman City hazardous waste dump.

DTSC Director Debbie Raphael simultaneously announced the "bold goal" of halving the amount of hazardous waste going to California landfills by 2025 ("A bold goal to cut toxic waste in California"; Editorials, July 8). But this is a red herring, a hypocritical proclamation meant to distract from the fact that – once again – the Department of Toxic Substances Control is carrying water for polluters and ignoring the toxic harm to Californians.

The DTSC has sweeping powers to revoke, deny or suspend any permit if there is a pattern of breaking environmental laws or a threat to public health.

Yet it almost never acts, and Chemical Waste Management is a perfect example. The company is a recidivist polluter that has been repeatedly fined by state and federal regulators for breaking hazardous waste laws over decades.

In just the last 15 months, Waste Management should have racked up the maximum of $1.8 million in fines for 72 spills of toxic waste. Yet the DTSC asked for a pinprick $300,000. Rather than punishing the company by denying its expansion, the DTSC instead rewarded Chemical Waste Management – a division of a firm that earns $13 billion annually – with a draft permit to bring even more waste into its landfill.

Raphael proposes to study ways to reduce the amount of toxic waste going to landfills instead of first enforcing the law against companies that endanger the public by spilling it. The strategies should go hand in hand.

Californians have had enough of fast ones. The DTSC spent millions in recent years developing "safer consumer products" rules to force companies to make less toxic products. So far, we have almost nothing to show for it. A decade ago, the agency wanted to profile refineries and reduce the toxic chemicals they use. Just one glare from Big Oil and they backed down.

Reducing the hazardous waste we generate in the first place is the right thing to do. But industry won't voluntarily comply. Now the DTSC has proven it's a paper tiger that won't even enforce existing laws against serial polluters. The DTSC should stop playing toxic games and protect people's lives right now.

Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Consumer Watchdog advocacy group in Santa Monica.

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