Legislature Passes Bill to Reform Beleaguered State Toxics Agency

Friday, August 29, 2014

Community Calls on Governor to Approve Measure

SACRAMENTO – The California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 812 (De León), to strengthen public health by providing permanent reforms of the troubled California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The Department is responsible for regulating disposal, storage and treatment of hazardous waste in the state. The bill passed both houses of the legislature, including a vote of 24-12 in the Senate on Friday, August 29th and a vote of 48-23 in the Assembly on Thursday, August 28th.

“As a resident harmed by toxic waste and years of inaction and neglect by DTSC, I am grateful for Senator De León's leadership in pushing for needed reforms of the agency,” said Gabriel Guerrero, an impacted resident living near the Exide Technologies lead-battery recycling facility.

Over the past two years, DTSC has been mired by controversies that have raised concerns about the Department’s ability to adequately manage hazardous waste facilities. These incidents and experiences have damaged the trust and confidence with the community. Foremost of these issues has been the ongoing challenges with a lead-battery recycling facility, Exide Technologies, which has been allowed to operate without the necessary permit for over 30 years,  even as it has repeatedly violated toxic and local air quality standards.  

“DTSC has failed us. Our communities are living with polluters which are operating on expired permits, and are dumping toxic metals and chemicals on our homes and schools without being held accountable for violating the law or forced to clean up their contamination. SB 812 is a bill whose time has come,” said Maya Golden-Kraner, staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment.

In addition to the issues with the Exide Technologies facility, the Department has been plagued by a number of other serious problems including the lack of permitting standards, large number of facilities operating on expired permits (a quarter of the 117 facilities regulated by the Department), failure to collect $200 million in clean-up costs from polluters, failures of the hazardous waste tracking system and others.

“We must steer DTSC to meet its core mission to protect the public health,” said Senator Kevin de León, author of Senate Bill 812. “This bill will help provides much needed permanent reforms to help rebuild the confidence and trust with the Department that our residents’ health and environment are being safeguarded.”

Over the course of the past year and a half, Senator De León has repeatedly met with DTSC, held hearings, requested a report, sent letters, and authored legislation to institute permanent reforms of the department.

To increase accountability, SB 812 would establish a community oversight committee composed of residents who live near facilities that release toxic emissions, strengthen requirements to ensure violators – not  California taxpayers – assume the costs of clean up caused by polluters. Additionally, the bill strengthens permitting standards and prevents facilities from operating on expired permits for decades on end.

SB 812 requires accountability, transparency, and oversight measures of DTSC:

  • Establishes a three year limit on permit renewal decisions. Requires DTSC to make a permit renewal decision to either approve or deny within three years from the original permit expiration date. In cases where no permit decision is made by three years from the original expiration date of the permit, a facility will not be allowed to operate. To help process permit renewals, facilities intending to renew their hazardous waste permit will be required to submit their full applications two years prior to the expiration date. These two years combined with the three years after the expiration date provides DTSC and the facility five years to resolve the permit application.
  • Increases transparency of hazardous waste management. Requires disclosure requirements regarding hazardous waste permitting, violations, and corrective actions to ensure accountability and information is more accessible to the public.
  • Ensures environmental justice communities have their voices heard. Creates a community-based oversight committee to improve accessibility, serve as a resource and liaison with the community and maintains a watchful eye on the Department.
  • Strengthens financial assurances. Ensures violators, rather than California taxpayers, assume the costs of harms caused by hazardous waste. Provides statutory clarity to ensure DTSC is able to require financial assurance instruments from polluting facilities for clean-up efforts earlier in the process.
  • Strengthens permitting standards. Adds criteria to prevent repeat offenders and irresponsible operators from receiving permits, and accounts for critical health, environmental and vulnerability factors.
  • Improves the State’s efforts to adequately recover its costs. Institutes recent recommendation of the State Auditor to peg the percentage rate on late fees assessed on polluting facilities to a percentage in-line with the Board of Equalization rather than the current rate of less than one percent. This is among a few factors which have resulted in nearly $200 million in unrecovered costs to the state.