Senate bill targets Vernon battery recycler

by Katy Grimes | January 23, 2014 6:44 am

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[1], 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 [2]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.


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. 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[3], 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[4] 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 Environmen[5]t is an organizing environmental justice activism group with close ties to Earthjustice[6], a litigating environmentalist activist group.

KPCC Public Radio[7] 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.[8]

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 [9]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[10] 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[11] in Nov. 2013 outlining enhancements to plant operations and providing a path forward for securing a permanent permit for waste disposal. Exide[12] 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 [13]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 story earlier this week, “Hearing reveals DTSC clogged with regulatory problems[14].”

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

  1. bill analysis:
  2. Exide :
  3. Battery recycling is state mandated:
  4. statement:
  5. Communities for a Better Environmen:
  6. Earthjustice:
  7. KPCC Public Radio:
  8. KPCC found.:
  9. Los Angeles Daily News :
  10. announced:
  11. agreement:
  12. Exide:
  13. resumed operations :
  14. Hearing reveals DTSC clogged with regulatory problems:

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