Independent Review Panel Details Department of Toxic Substances Control’s Failures to Protect Public, Environment
SACRAMENTO – Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said today that a new report on the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) reveals an organization failing to perform its basic function of protecting the public and environment from industrial hazardous waste and contamination.
“DTSC’s shortcomings have placed the health and wellbeing of whole communities in serious risk,” said Senator De León. “We now have an independent report that presents an excellent framework for reforming a department facing significant challenges.”
The first report by the Independent Review Panel cited a number of problems and issued recommendations to the Governor, the Legislature, and the DTSC, regarding the department’s budget, permitting and enforcement processes, public outreach, and fiscal management.
In response to the Exide scandal in Vernon, an un-permitted battery recycling plant that fouled surrounding communities with lead, arsenic and other contaminates for decades before being shuttered, Senator De León called for the creation of an independent panel and fought for an appropriation in last year’s budget to fund its activities.
In its 16-page report, the Independent Review Panel highlighted serious concerns with DTSC’s backlog of as many as 20 pending renewal applications – resulting in hazardous waste facilities operating on a continued status for more than five years beyond their permit expiration. The Exide plant operated for more than 30 years on a continued status while racking up numerous citations for environmental and safety violations.
The Independent Review Panel also warned that the DTSC faces a future shortfall in its Site Remediation Fund which is used for cleanup at orphan sites where the polluters are no longer available to pay “even though those sites impact groundwater or release toxic vapors from underground contamination into occupied buildings.”
The Independent Review Panel noted that this June the DTSC is set to lose 14 staff members responsible with recouping site contamination cleanup costs from responsible polluters. In 2013, the DTSC disclosed its unrecovered costs totaled $184.5 million, or about 10 percent of all response costs from 1987 to 2012.
Other Independent Review Panel recommendations included:
- Consider the creation of a Permit Appeals Board to decide all Hazardous Waste Facility Permits applications that the DTSC has failed to process within 3 years of the permit expiration date.
- Require the DTSC to mandate that Hazardous Waste Facility Permit applicants have adequate financial resources set aside to respond to toxic waste releases at the site, in addition to decommissioning costs.
- Require the DTSC to recover all costs connected with its Hazardous Waste Facility Permit decisions.
- Fund the 14 cost-recovery staff positions through 2018 or make them permanent.
- Strengthen the role of the Assistant Director for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs, including more staff and resources.
- Increase the DTSC’s Site Remediation Account to ensure continued orphan site cleanup.
The three-member Independent Review Panel will continue its oversight role and issue reports every 90 days until its authority expires on January 1, 2018.
“We now have independent eyes on the DTSC and another forum for public input and participation,” said Senator De León. “No protections are too great to prevent another Exide scandal.”
To read the complete Independent Review Panel report go to: https://www.dtsc.ca.gov/GetInvolved/ReviewPanel/upload/FINAL-IRPreport-1-28.pdf
The next Independent Review Panel meeting will be on February 10 in Sacramento: http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/GetInvolved/ReviewPanel/upload/IRP_Meeting-Agenda-Feb-10-Final-2.pdf
Since his election to the Senate, and now as Pro Tem, Senator De León has made the closure and cleanup of the Exide facility a top priority. He authored SB 654 (2015) to deny new permits to facilities like Exide unless they are in full compliance with the law. He successfully worked provide state funding to cleanup Exide to reduce risk to residents in the area. In addition to his central role in the creation of the Independent Review Panel, Senator De León successfully fought for a $13 million budget allocation to boost DTSC’s permitting process and hazardous waste oversight operation.
He also authored SB 812, vetoed by the Governor in 2014, this measure would have provided for permanent reforms of DTSC, including: strengthening permitting standards, preventing facilities from operating on expired permits for open-ended periods of time, and improving the State’s efforts to adequately recover its costs and ensure violators, rather than California taxpayers, assume the costs of harms caused by hazardous waste facilities.