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California ‘Fails to Enforce Toxic Waste Laws’

California lawmakers are calling for an investigation following two reports that say the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control refuses to revoke the permits of companies that repeatedly violate environmental laws, and lets hazardous waste polluters operate on expired permits for years at a time.

The reports found that the DTSC has consistently failed to protect communities and the environment from harms posed by toxic waste in the state’s soil, water and air.

According to Golden Wasteland, a Consumer Watchdog report, the DTSC cuts repeated deals out of court with polluters, levies ineffective fines and fails to develop and refer cases for prosecution. The DTSC often awards permits without environmental review, and it has not revoked the permit of a serial violator of environmental laws in more than 15 years, the report found.

The group has written a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown demanding the removal of top DTSC managers.

The DTSC, a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency, licenses 117 facilities to manage hazardous waste. It regulates about 900 registered businesses that transport it, the consumer group says. The DTSC also oversees the cleanup of some 1,000 hazardous substance release sites, and monitors the long-term maintenance of about 200 sites where cleanup is complete.

Based on interviews with former and present DTSC staff, affected community members from cases around the state, legislative experts, consultants, advocates, private attorneys and prosecutors, the report says that the enforcement culture at the DTSC is spineless and the department is held captive by the industry it regulates.

Among the California EPA boards, departments and divisions, the report says DTSC does the poorest job. For example, the DTSC collected far less in fines than the California Air Resources Board between 2007 and 2010, even though it has far broader responsibilities. Over these three years, DTSC’s penalties fell by half to $2.2 million, while the California Air Resources Board collected between $9 and $20 million each fiscal year in the same time period. The number of cases DTSC referred for public prosecution dropped from 55 in 2007 to just a single case in 2012.

Other Consumer Watchdog allegations include:

  • The DTSC lets companies function on expired permits for up to 16 years at a time.
  • The DTSC can deny, revoke, or suspend a permit where there is a pattern of non-compliance with laws on hazardous wastes, materials, and substances, or where a company poses a threat to public health.  It consistently refuses to use these powers.
  • The DTSC grants exceptions to the rules without public input, saving companies money but risking public health.
  • The DTSC suffers from a bias toward industry encouraged by a revolving door between regulators, lobbyists and lawyers.

Additionally, in an NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit report, two high-ranking DTSC employees told the news team that the department it not protecting people and the environment from toxic substances: “People are getting sick, people are dying and community members are crying out,” one source told NBC. “We’re not doing near enough; in fact, we are allowing it to happen.”

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