SACRAMENTO – A state department whose responsibilities include monitoring hazardous waste facilities will itself be monitored by independent experts, according to provisions sought by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León in the recently approved budget.
The 2015-16 budget signed by Governor Brown last week established a 3-person panel to monitor the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), in addition to a $13 million budget increase to boost its permitting process and hazardous waste oversight operations.
“The establishment of an oversight board to scrutinize DTSC is a critical first step in making sure industries that handle hazardous and toxic materials do so by the books,” De León said. “Failure to do so puts the public at serious risk.”
De León, who has introduced SB 654 to improve DTSC’s permitting process, said he was motivated by the Exide battery factory scandal in Vernon. DTSC allowed Exide to operate for decades without a state permit despite repeated violations for contaminating nearby homes and communities with arsenic, lead and other toxins.
In March, after months of increasing community and political pressure, DTSC and the U.S. Justice Department finally ordered Exide to close. “This is a lapse that can never be repeated,” De León said.
With its budget increase, DTSC is expected to fund a new assistant director for environmental justice and add several new positions to better police and permit hazardous waste facilities – all reforms spearheaded by De León, Senator Ricardo Lara, other Exide-area legislators, community activists, and statewide environmental justice organizations.
De León said he expects SB 654 will assist the 3-person oversight committee – comprised of a scientist with an expertise in toxic material, a community representative, and a local government expert – in monitoring DTSC’s permitting procedures.
The bill will prevent the DTSC from allowing hazardous waste facilities to operate indefinitely without a permit by creating a five-year permit renewal time frame. If DTSC has not granted a permit renewal by the end of the five-year process, it must declare the facility illegal. The measure is set to be heard July 14 in the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Material Committee.