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DTSC, Assembly Speaker Negotiating Bill To Reduce Haz-Waste Disposal

INSIDE CAL EPA

Toxics department officials are proposing amendments to a pending environmental justice bill authored by the Assembly speaker that may establish a new hazardous waste management structure aimed at meeting the agency's goal of cutting hazardous waste disposal by 50 percent, sources say.

Under one department proposal, referred to by some observers as keeping "waste in place," businesses generating waste would find ways to dispose of it on-site in order to reduce amounts being shipped to hazardous waste dumps in environmental justice communities such as Kettleman City, sources say.

If sought, the proposal is likely to draw opposition from some environmental justice groups based on the argument that the department should do more to prevent or reduce hazardous waste generation altogether.

The department and lawmakers are also considering other draft amendments to the bill that could hike penalties on hazardous waste facilities that violate permits, according to sources. Additional draft amendments under consideration would require a regulation revoking a waste facility's permit if it has several violations and is located within an environmental justice community, sources add.

Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) earlier this year introduced AB 1330, which as currently drafted would require each agency within Cal/EPA to maintain a public database on their websites listing ongoing enforcement cases and compliance histories of regulated entities that have committed violations. The bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee "suspense" file.

But the bill is expected to soon be amended to potentially establish a new hazardous waste management system in California to be overseen by DTSC, sources say. The administration may try to push the bill through this year despite a quickly approaching Sept. 13 deadline to advance bills to the governor, sources say.

DTSC officials are considering one potential approach for the bill that would establish the so-called "waste-in-place" program to essentially allow businesses handling or generating hazardous waste to dispose of the waste on-site, according to sources. This would be a key component of DTSC's recently announced goal to cut hazardous waste disposal 50 percent by 2025. However, sources say there is no draft language yet on this topic.

DTSC last month announced that it will allow Chemical Waste Management Inc., to increase the capacity of its hazardous waste landfill in Kettleman Hills. Accompanying the draft permit decision was an announcement by DTSC that it will set a goal of reducing hazardous waste disposed in California dumps 50 percent by 2025 (Inside Cal/EPA, July 12). The reduction would affect the amount of waste going to landfills in Kettleman Hills, Buttonwillow near Bakersfield and Westmoreland in Imperial County, DTSC said in a July 2 statement.

But other draft amendments to the bill under consideration and obtained by Inside Cal/EPA would require DTSC, the Air Resources Board and other agencies to adopt a regulation requiring automatic revocation of a facility permit if a facility has had three separate violations within a five-year period that threaten the public health or the environment and is located within an environmental justice community.

The draft amendments would create a "Green Zone Trust Fund" and require 40 percent of administrative penalties assessed against operators of solid waste facilities, normally deposited into an "Enforcement Penalty Account," to now be deposited into the trust fund.

The amendments would also require DTSC to double the maximum amount of the fine or penalty assessed against a facility located within an impacted area that exceeds allowed emissions or discharges.The draft amendments are available on InsideEPA.com. (Doc ID: 2445295)

A waste industry source says the draft amendments appear to extend environmental justice "restrictions" beyond hazardous waste sites to also include solid waste facilities. Recycling advocates are also concerned about the impact of this plan, the source says. "If those amendments are added to the bill, we would have to oppose."

Meanwhile, environmental justice advocates Aug. 28 held a rally at the Capitol to support AB 1330 and other environmental justice bills. Perez also attended the event.

But an environmental justice source this week says it is unclear exactly how AB 1330 will be amended. The source acknowledges that groups have been discussing hazardous waste issues with DTSC and Perez's office, but was unclear about the direction DTSC and Perez may go with amendments.

The source was not aware of a possible "waste in place" concept, but predicted that groups would likely oppose it if included in the bill.

Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group that has been highly critical of DTSC leaders and policies for most of this year, says it is important not to rush AB 1330. "DTSC used its decision on Kettleman to set out a goal of reducing the amount of hazardous waste disposed at landfills by half by 2025. Since the lion's share of our waste has already been generated in the form of contaminated soil, the only way to achieve that goal would be to leave waste in place, right where it is," she says. "DTSC has been using this technique for years, and the results are not pretty. Any dramatic expansion of this technique as a way of reducing disposal should not be acceptable to the environmental community, and [AB 1330] should reflect that."

But other draft amendments being circulated to increase fines and establishing a trust fund for communities are "a fine idea," Tucker says. "But in general the DTSC has negotiated away violations in the past entirely, under the table, and lowered fines so they are [only] pinpricks."

The bill should set a minimum floor for fines, while banning the dropping of violations in settlement negotiations, Tucker argues.

When asked to comment about possible amendments to AB 1330, including the "waste in place" idea, a DTSC spokesman responded that Perez "has shown interest in our goal for reducing the amount of hazardous waste going to landfills, but we don't know what will be included in the bill."