SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today said that the state audit uncovering $194 million that the Department Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) failed to bill or collect from polluters could be the tip of the iceberg, and called on Governor Brown to appoint a new director committed to protecting Californians from toxic—and fiscal—harm.
“We hope that Governor Brown will heed a letter written more than two months ago now and signed by 35 groups, asking that he appoint a new Director from outside the California EPA who puts protection of the public, and not polluters’ wallets, first,” said Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate with the public interest group.
Tucker said it was urgent that the governor create a transparent, national search process for a new Director, as the groups call for, and that all deputy directors, division chiefs, and other managers clearly allied with industry instead of the public be replaced with managers committed to doing the right thing to protect public health. Moreover, she said it was critical that DTSC permitting legislation authored by Senator Kevin de Leon (SB 812) be passed as written as it establishes internal oversight through an appointed Bureau of Internal Affairs.
“This calls for an extensive investigation of DTSC by sworn peace officers to make sure that fraud and other abuses aren’t behind these results,” said Tucker, who first reported billing problems in a far-ranging 2013 report called Golden Wasteland. Consumer Watchdog subsequently prompted DTSC to admit $185 million in unbilled or uncollected costs for oversight of polluter cleanups in May of that year in response to a Public Records Act request.
The California State Auditor found problems with inadequate procedures, incomplete documentation, and misclassification of certain cleanup sites in DTSC's database. “These issues are so pervasive that the department has not yet determined the exact amount it may be able to recover,” the State Auditor said.
For the audit report, see: http://www.auditor.ca.gov/reports/summary/2013-122
Tucker said that the agency should be considered “high risk” for potential waste, mismanagement, fraud, and abuse. “Right now, the State Auditor will be requiring DTSC to periodically report on the implementation of its recommendations, but we need other agencies to participate in the oversight of this dysfunctional department, including the Office of the Inspector General, and the Department of Finance,” she said.
Tucker said that a major problem at DTSC was how it was structured to treat businesses, including serial polluters, as “customers,” rather than the public it is tasked to protect. “In addition to incompetence, the culture of industry friendliness at the expense of public health has meant that DTSC has sometimes been reluctant to bill for the true cost of their services, properly fine polluters, or insist on money up front from companies to cover the cost of closure and corrective action,” Tucker said.
For more on DTSC, click here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/golden-wasteland-report
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