SB 654 Tightens Lax DTSC Oversight of Hazardous Waste Facilities
SACRAMENTO – The Senate today approved a bill by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León to increase state oversight of hazardous waste facilities like the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon that operated unpermitted for decades.
“It’s bad enough that facilities handling toxins and hazardous waste are often located in or near underserved communities,” said Senator de León, “But it is absolutely unacceptable when they’re allowed to operate without oversight. We can never allow another Exide.”
Approved by a 21-16 vote, SB 654 will prevent the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) from allowing hazardous waste facilities to operate indefinitely without a permit by creating a five-year permit renewal process. If DTSC has not granted a permit renewal by the end of the five-year process, it must declare the facility illegal.
DTSC allowed Exide Technologies to continue its operations without a permit for more than 30 years despite repeated violations of environmental and safety standards that led to the contamination of nearby communities with arsenic, lead and other toxins.
Michelle Benavides, an 18-year-old environmental justice activist who lives in Boyle Heights, a community heavily impacted by Exide, said that when hazardous waste facilities go unregulated nearby residents suffer the consequences.
Benavides said that when she goes for a run “I can't even catch my breath because of the particulate matter coming out of these factories. Now imagine the horrible impact this polluted air is having on my little sister who has asthma or the elderly residents. There should be a strict limit on what these factories produce because they are in our community so we should have a say on what is best for us, and operating without a permit does not give us a voice or protect us!"
In March, DTSC and the U.S. Justice Department finally ordered Exide to close. The lapse in the state’s hazardous waste tracking system and resulting harmful impacts on the public health and the surrounding environment alarmed not only local community-based organizations and but civil justice groups throughout the state.
“By allowing facilities to operate for decades on expired permits DTSC has put the interests of the industry before the interests of communities,” said Ingrid Brostrom, Senior Attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. “It's time this balance shifted back towards protecting public health.”