Capitol Alert

Failures at California toxic waste regulator prompt bills to improve enforcement

Sara Redding, left, a field sampling team leader for the Los Angeles County Health Department, and Jaime Jarrett, an environmental health specialist, prepare soil samples to be tested for possible lead contamination from the shuttered Exide battery recycling plant on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sara Redding, left, a field sampling team leader for the Los Angeles County Health Department, and Jaime Jarrett, an environmental health specialist, prepare soil samples to be tested for possible lead contamination from the shuttered Exide battery recycling plant on Feb. 29, 2016. Los Angeles Times

California lawmakers on Tuesday announced bills designed to increase funding and improve enforcement at the state agency that regulates hazardous waste facilities.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control has been under intense scrutiny following a series of scandals that exposed lax policing of polluters, including a 2014 state audit that uncovered nearly $200 million in cleanup costs for which the agency had never collected payment from the responsible companies.

A previous bill to change department operations was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. But outrage was reignited by revelations that a now-shuttered Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon was allowed to operate without a full permit for more than three decades. The state approved $177 million last year to clean up lead pollution in the surrounding area.

“Too many communities, including communities I represent, have been harmed by toxic emissions that were released into their neighborhoods – emissions that could and should have been stopped,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in a statement. “The goal of this legislative package is a more transparent, accountable, and responsive Department of Toxic Substances Control – and safer and healthier communities throughout California.”

The five measures are based on recommendations issued by an independent panel that was created to oversee the toxic substances agency in June 2015.

Assembly Bill 245 and Assembly Bill 249, by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, would establish stricter requirements for hazardous waste facilities to fund the cleanup of contamination they have caused and increase the penalties for violations of waste disposal laws. AB 245 would also require the department to hold a community hearing when a facility applies to renew their permit.

Assembly Bill 248, by Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, D-Grand Terrace, would require facilities to begin the renewal process two years before their permit expires, and require the agency to maintain a public timeline of its review on its website.

Assembly Bill 246, by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, would add approval from the local air quality regulator to the permit. Assembly Bill 247, by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, would create a task force to review state policies for reducing child lead poisoning.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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