The closing of the battery recycling plant Exide is a triumph for the community, after years of trying to shut down this source of pollution for the neighbors.
Exide accepted a federal agreement that allows the company to avoid criminal prosecution for endangering the community’s health because of its storage and recycling practices. In exchange, the company will close the plant and has committed to pay $50 million to the closing and cleaning effort, and to create a fund to clean up the contaminated lands in the surrounding communities.
As it’s been reported, the clean up could exceed $50 million, and if at any point in the next 10 years Exide does not comply with federal and state agreements, it could be prosecuted for the felonies to which it has admitted.
Now, it’s the turn of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to verify the fulfillment of the agreement. For example, the DTSC must make sure that Exide will remove all buildings and structures from the site over the next two years.
The regulatory role of the DTSC has been a disaster in this case, as it has allowed Exide to operate for more than 30 years with a temporary permit, while the plant polluted its surroundings. For a long time, the state agency seemed more preoccupied with the company’s continuing operations than with protecting people – which should be its main function.
Some questionable DTSC actions, like issuing temporary operation permits of indefinite duration, will disappear thanks to a new law by Senator Ricardo Lara that governor Brown signed last year.
This will prevent repeating one of the problems with Exide, but it is not enough to ensure that DTSC fulfills its assigned role of protecting Californians above the industry’s interests.
The Exide case and its role in supervising the agreement should serve as a basis for more changes inside the DTSC, so it can recover the lost trust from the public.