An environmental advocacy group has asked Governor Jerry Brown and top lawmakers to defund the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) or reform it from top to bottom, in the wake of the US Attorney’s criminal investigation and closure of Exide Technologies.
“This is a major victory for the people of east Los Angeles,” said Liza Tucker, an advocate with Consumer Watchdog.. “But DTSC allowed Exide to pollute the community with impunity for two decades and was even considering granting them a permit when the US Attorney shut them down. Either this agency is reformed from top to bottom or it needs to go. No toxic regulator would be better than one that allows serial polluters to keep polluting without denying or revoking permits.”
Tucker said that for 20 years, DTSC allowed the lead battery recycler to operate without a permit, never required Exide to put up the funds to cover fixes or adequate funds for closure as state law calls for, and ignored dangerous levels of lead emissions from the lead battery recycler that accumulated onto the ground, seeped into groundwater from leaky pipes, and that landed in the LA River.
So far, DTSC does not appear to be mending its ways, said Tucker. “They are before the legislature right now asking for money to fund more studies, more ways to waste money to put off the day of reckoning for polluters like giant metal shredders exempted from regulation, and to continue to permit serial polluters that should instead be shut down.”
Under DTSC’s new Director, Barbara Lee, DTSC discovered eight new violations at Exide, but never sanctioned them for what were egregious repeat offenses, said Tucker. Nor did DTSC ever demand that Exide put up at least $100 million to cover the removal of dangerous lead slag from an unlined pit on the premises, as well as fix its operations, as it should have according to state law.
“This regulator is notorious for its fiscal irresponsibility,” said Tucker. “State law demands that companies demonstrate they have the wherewithal to fix operations when ordered to do so and to be able to close down and secure facilities containing toxics whose pollution can threaten the public for hundreds of years. But DTSC doesn’t do it.”
Tucker, who documented cases from around the state where DTSC is falling down on the job, said that DTSC, which did not bill, or collect more than $180 million in costs for oversight of toxic cleanups, shouldn’t be given another penny until it comes up with rules on when serial violators lose or are denied permits, and meaningfully includes environmental justice communities in its own oversight and in enforcement.