Polluters benefit from lax state enforce­ment

The Department of Toxic Substances Control in California has come under heavy fire this winter.

According to a recent investigative piece by the LA Times, the department runs a “glacially slow” oversight program that is supposed to monitor and report hazardous waste operations in California.

 The report reviewed “departmental inspection reports, internal memos, court records and local fire and health department documents, as well as … interviews with residents, business owners and regulators,” and found the permit program to be lacking in enforcement.

The Times found 30 out of 118, or a quarter, of major hazardous waste facilities in California are operating on expired permits.

Hundreds of companies have reportedly walked away from contaminated sites, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. And the department does not use the legal and financial weapons at its disposal in order to enforce environmental regulations.

Several weeks earlier, NBC Bay Area reported that the consulting group California Personnel Services found, after a 10-month audit, that permit renewals take an average of four years from start to finish and that the process lacks “clearly stated objectives.”

The DTSC’s response?

DTSC Director Debbie Raphael, at the helm since 2011, says they are working on it. Raphael was the one who ordered the outside review of the DTSC’s permitting department.

Raphael declined to be interviewed by both NBC Bay Area and the LA Times. But at a recent public meeting, the Times quoted her as saying:

 “When I came on board, I found a department that was [in] what I would call structural disarray … We had all sorts of problems with our budget … with our staffing. … There was a lot of turmoil.”

The DTSC came up with a draft report including more than 50 tasks to be completed within the next year in response to the CPS review.

It essentially states it will trying to fix everything wrong within the department, from giving teeth to the permitting office, to training staff and improving data collection and reporting.

The report, however, did not offer any details on how it plans to better enforce its permitting program or how it would increase the transparency of its regulation process.

The DTSC has been in the process of cleaning up its own mess. Since the spring of this year, the department suspended the permits of two major offenders — GEM in Rancho Cordova and Exide Technologies in Vernon.

The regulator, however, did not disclose plans to revoke any other permits,  according to NBC Investigative Unit.

The damage is not limited to just industrial waste, but also fracking, radioactive waste left behind by the Navy, and old, leaky gas stations.