Senator Durazo Introduces Legislation to Reform Deeply Flawed Hazardous Waste Facility Compliance Formula

Friday, March 19, 2021

Senator María Elena Durazo, alongside co-authors Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), has introduced SB 575 to reform the Department of Toxic Substances Control's (DTSC) formula for the Violations Scoring Procedure (VSP). DTSC uses the VSP to evaluate a hazardous waste facility’s compliance history with environmental regulations. However, DTSC’s current formula for the VSP obscures the impact and magnitude of harm caused by facilities to communities and the environment.

“We must strengthen the VSP so that the department is able to more effectively hold accountable the hazardous waste facilities that are polluting and poisoning our neighborhoods,” said Senator Durazo. “The VSP, while well-intentioned, has let the worst polluters off the hook. We can do more to avoid another Exide-level environmental disaster in our communities. SB 575 is a much-needed and straightforward change that will make communities across California safer.”

DTSC regulates California's 78 hazardous waste facilities, many of which have long and alarming histories of contaminating soil, water, and communities. In response to such historic and ongoing contamination, the California legislature passed SB 673 (Lara, Ch. 611, Stat. 2015). SB 673 required DTSC to establish and update criteria to evaluate a hazardous waste facility’s compliance history when making permitting decisions. In turn, DTSC created the VSP which took effect in 2019.

A key provision of the VSP has resulted in an unexpected and deeply problematic outcome that obscures the impact and magnitude of harm caused by facilities. 

Using the VSP, DTSC calculates a Facility VSP Score for each hazardous waste facility. DTSC does this by first assigning a value to each of the facility’s Class 1 Violations in the past 10 years. Next, DTSC adds these values together to produce an Inspection Violation Score. The problem arises with the final step in the calculation. DTSC takes the Inspection Violation Score and divides it by the number of inspections at the facility in the past 10 years.

This division results in Facility VSP Scores that do not accurately capture a facility’s compliance history. DTSC’s calculation results in the most harmful facilities having diluted Facility VSP Scores because of their higher number of inspections.

SB 575, co-sponsored by Earthjustice and Clean Air Coalition of North Whittier & Avocado Heights, fixes the VSP calculation so that Facility VSP Scores reflect the compliance histories of hazardous waste facilities more accurately. 

In Southern California, Exide and Quemetco’s hazardous waste violations have resulted in an environmental disaster zone that demonstrates the gaping holes in California's regulatory system for toxic substances. Exide, a secondary lead smelter located in Vernon, is responsible for contaminating more than 100,000 homes in Los Angeles. After decades of violations, Exide recently abandoned its responsibility to clean up its contamination through a bankruptcy plan approved by the former Department of Justice and the EPA. 

Located just 20 miles from Exide, Quemetco has also spent decades violating state laws and evading responsibility for its toxic contamination. Quemetco is a secondary lead smelter located in the City of Industry in Los Angeles County. The facility produces 120,000 tons of lead each year and operates within 600 feet of homes. Despite its many violations, Quemetco has received a relatively low Facility VSP Score because of the high number of inspections at the facility.

“Transparency and accuracy must be at the core of the VSP,” said Senator Gonzalez. “There can be no room for even the slightest chance that could allow companies like Exide to get away with polluting entire neighborhoods and harming the health of so many families without consequence. I am proud to work alongside Senator María Elena Durazo on Senate Bill 575 to empower DTSC with a stronger, more efficient tool to hold polluters accountable for irresponsible actions and to protect our communities.” 

“DTSC’s current VSP is backwards because it rewards frequent polluters,” said Assemblymember Santiago. “We do not want polluting facilities in our neighborhoods and current law lets the worst polluters off the hook. That’s why I’m proud to co-author SB 575 to fix VSP.” 

“For more than thirty years, Exide’s toxic metals and lead emissions were allowed to poison our Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) neighborhoods with toxic metals and lead,” said Assemblymember Garcia. “That human and environmental disaster continued for over three decades in large part because of the State’s grossly inadequate Violation Scoring Procedures (VSP), which should raise an alarm when polluters like Exide continuously violate air quality rules. Reforming the VSP formula will not bring justice to the community affected by Exide, but it will ensure other environmental justice communities don’t end up with another Exide.”

“The Exide disaster has highlighted the dire need for a stronger DTSC, actually capable of holding hazardous waste facilities across the state accountable for reckless behavior and dangerous violations,” said Earthjustice Associate Attorney Byron Chan. “SB 575 provides a simple, but critically needed fix that will dramatically improve DTSC’s ability to protect frontline communities from these facilities and help to prevent another Exide.”

"For far too long, communities like mine have been subjected to injustice and contamination from hazardous waste facilities like Quemetco," said Rebecca Overmyer-Velázquez, Coordinator of the Clean Air Coalition of North Whittier & Avocado Heights. "DTSC's current regulatory system is letting the most harmful of these industrial facilities off the hook, all while they violate their permits and poison our communities. SB 575 is an important step that will equip DTSC with the information it needs to improve oversight and better protect our communities."

SB 575 follows former Senator Ricardo Lara's SB 673 from 2015, requiring DTSC to establish or update criteria for evaluating a hazardous waste facility's compliance history when making permit decisions.