Senate bill targets Vernon battery recycler

A new bill that today passed the California Senate, 33-0, is aimed at one specific company. And it would give great new regulatory powers to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Senate Bill 712, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Huntington Park, was not debated, and faced no opposition even from the Republican minority.

SB712 would authorize the DTSC to suspend or not renew temporary permit applications from companies that have hazardous waste facilities. According to the bill analysis, it is aimed at one company, Exide Technologies, based in Milton, Ga., a battery manufacturer. Specifically, the bill targets Exide’s facility in Vernon, Calif., which “recycles 23,000 to 41,000 batteries daily.” And on average it produces “100,000 to 120,000 tons of lead per year.”

Exide is one of the world’s largest producers and recyclers of lead-acid batteries, with facilities in 80 countries. Its Vernon plant is a secondary lead smelting facility, which recovers lead from recycled automotive batteries. The Vernon plant, purchased by Exide in 2000, has been in operation since 1922, and runs 24/7.

Specifics

The bill would authorize the DTSC to suspend, or not renew, Exide’s temporary permit, after issuing temporary permits to the company for 30 years. Exide is the only company in the state falling under the temporary permitting status.

CalWatchdog.com contacted representatives of Exide, the DTSC and state Senator Lara to ask: Why did the DTSC issue only temporary permits to Exide for 30 years, never any permanent permits?

And: Why suspend or decide not to renew the permit now?

After all, Exide is only one of two battery recyclers west of the Rockies. The other is Quemetco in the City of Industry. Battery recycling is state mandated, so batteries do not end up in landfills.

Exide and Lara’s office called back. The DTSC did not respond to inquiries.

What is the need for legislation?

According to a statement provided by Lara’s office, he has been under pressure from environmental justice activists to carry the legislation shutting Exide down. The statement said:

“Residents from the communities surrounding hazardous waste facilities, like Exide in my district, have suffered for decades as the plant has repeatedly violated health and safety standards, releasing harmful emissions and contaminating the local environment.

“ ‘We are tired of DTSC dragging its feet, allowing this facility to operate for decades without an enforceable permit and to poison our neighborhoods over and over again.  Today we moved one step closer to finally forcing DTSC and Exide to be accountable to the public,’ said Maya Golden Krasner with Communities for a Better Environment.

“ ‘I was very pleased to see that the committee fully supported SB712.  We believe this is a necessary step to protect the health of the public in the district.  The community members that made the long trek from South East Los Angeles to the Capitol were excited to see their representative move this bill forward,’ said Angelo Logan from East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.”

Communities for a Better Environment is an organizing environmental justice activism group with close ties to Earthjustice, a litigating environmentalist activist group.

KPCC Public Radio did a story about Exide in June, and reported there is no concrete evidence that Exide’s operation has caused health problems in the surrounding communities. “In heavily industrial urban areas, it is exceedingly difficult to determine a direct link between a specific facility and an individual’s health condition,” KPCC found.

Speaker Perez

Outgoing Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, also has focused on Exide over concerns the battery recycler has been polluting the community.

Perez wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Daily News last week:

“The story of Exide is a decades-long cycle of emissions violations, patchwork responses, and then business as usual. This time it has to be different. This time we have to end the cycle once and for all. Either Exide is regulated sufficiently so it cleans up its act and operates in a way consistent with public health and safety, or the determination must finally be made that the plant cannot operate safely and must cease operations.”

Yet only the week before, Exide announced that a Southern California Air Quality Management District report found the firm successful in substantially reducing arsenic emissions:

“Since identifying elevated emissions levels early last year, the company has worked tirelessly with regulators to address their concerns, invest in substantial plant upgrades and further reduce emissions. In a December 2013 Rule Staff Report, South Coast Air Quality Management District presented the latest source testing results, confirming a plant-wide 95 percent reduction in arsenic emissions, which has been maintained since April 2013. Those documented test results show the facility meeting SCAQMD’s current toxic air contaminant rule limits for existing facilities.”

Since 2010, Exide has invested $20 million in equipment and technology to bring the battery recycling plant into compliance with the the AQMD and the DTSC. It pointed out:

“Exide strives to make the Vernon plant a premier recycling facility and considers the health and safety of the community, its workforce and the environment a top priority.”

DTSC and Exide working together

Exide and DTSC executed an agreement in Nov. 2013 outlining enhancements to plant operations and providing a path forward for securing a permanent permit for waste disposal. Exide announced:

“The Department has unfortunately had a long history of constant turnover and uncertain standards – a situation that has left permittees frustrated with frequently shifting oversight, guidance, requirements and deadlines. With new and engaged leadership now at the department, Exide is working cooperatively and constructively to overcome these historic challenges and obtain its permanent permit.”

The agreement between Exide and DTSC resolves issues stemming from a suspension order in April 2013 that shut down the Vernon plant for more than seven weeks. The plant resumed operations in late June after obtaining a preliminary injunction ruling in its favor from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

Exide’s complaints about the DTSC coincide with a CalWatchdog.com story earlier this week, “Hearing reveals DTSC clogged with regulatory problems.”

Ironically, SB712 gives even more power to the DTSC before its own regulatory difficulties have been cleared up.

2 comments

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  1. Orland
    Orland 23 January, 2014, 17:33

    They would be welcome in Glenn County Calif,
    WILLOWS — Glenn County Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to take steps to join the State of Jefferson.

    Vice chairman of the board Steve Soeth said the new state would need 10-15 counties. So far, Glenn is joined by Siskiyou and Modoc counties, which also voted to make the move.

    Most of the proposed maps include counties in southern Oregon and Northern California.

    “We want to be a part of the Jefferson movement,” Soeth said.

    To create a new state separate from California, approval would be needed from the California Legislature and Congress.

    Soeth said two town hall meetings were held in Glenn County. The sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of joining a new state, Soeth said.

    Many people have questions about how it would all work, with funding, California debt and infrastructure. But the tone is that the state does not represent rural, northern counties fairly, he said.

    “This is sending notice to the state that we’re tired of being their victim,” Glenn County Supervisors Chairman Mike Murray said.

    “We are a byproduct of whatever the urban areas want — the L.A. basin, San Francisco. They have more representatives.”

    Another issue is that each county no longer has its own state senator, which was the case before the 1960s, Soeth said. “We are governed by urban legislators.”

    Assembly Bill 32 (Global Warming Act), and restrictions under California Air Resources Board were two areas where Soeth said California rules don’t fit with rural counties.

    “The trucking industry is tagged with things that make sense in urban areas. We have the best air up here” while trucking businesses are going under.

    The vote Tuesday doesn’t obligate the county, and doesn’t cost the county money, Soeth said.

    During discussions about state finances, Soeth said people in other parts of the state view Northern California as a financial drain, even a “welfare area.”

    If the million or so residents in Northern California and southern Oregon formed the State of Jefferson, government could be streamlined, Soeth said.

    The last time a new state was formed through a division similar to the Jefferson movement was in the 1860s, and resulted in the creation of West Virginia, Soeth said. Of course, much legal wrangling preceded West Virginia statehood.

    “It comes down to the state is so large and ungovernable the way it is,” the supervisor said.

    He believes it would serve California as a whole to “cut us loose and we’ll figure it out.”

    When people worry about the worst-case scenario, law enforcement is usually at the top of the list, Soeth said, followed by education and roads.

    “Those are questions for down the road. The first thing is to get a coalition of counties.”

    A meeting was held in Chico earlier this month, with a crowd of about 300; see story here: http://goo.gl/wTWQkm.

    At that meeting, people were urged to contact Butte County leaders.

    Soeth said other areas where the movement is strong include the counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake and Colusa.

    While remote from the other counties, Placer County has said “don’t leave us out,” Soeth said.

    “I think it’s time. But the wheels of our government grind along slowly sometimes.”

    Northern counties are “like-minded thinkers,” with roots in agriculture, mining and timber. “We all speak the same language,” he said.

    Reply this comment
  2. Tesla_x
    Tesla_x 26 January, 2014, 10:21

    Earthjustice is the legal attack arm of the clean tech industry, and they are attempting to destroy critical recycling infrastructure of a technology that competes directly with firms that serve the electric car, renewable storage, and higher cost storage technology providers.

    If they succeed, what they couldn’t do through simple innovation and competition, they will push through with legal subterfuge.

    If lead recycling becomes ‘illegal’ then the cost of a very basic and cost effective storage technology will rise.

    Look to the ‘green’ providers of uncompetitive battery storage tech and their minions for the ‘cui bono’ angle.

    Follow the money!

    Search for ‘earthjustice’ in this article
    http://www.calcars.org/calcarsclips.doc

    http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/clean_vehicles/Moving-California-Forward-Executive-Summary.pdf

    Indications that they, and the sierra club, are continuing their anti ghg, anti oil, pro clean tech push.

    I wouldn’t at all be surprised if certain electric car companies were directly funding these activities and bills.

    Reply this comment

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