The U.S. Attorney’s announcement March 12 that it has reached an agreement with Exide Technologies to close its Vernon plant is certainly good news given the facility’s troubling history of toxic chemical emission and hazardous waste violations.
The acid-lead battery recycler has been operating for nearly three decades under a temporary permit, which gives new meaning to “temporary” here in Los Angeles County.
More than any other factor, we believe it was the unrelenting demonstrations and pressure from the community that is ultimately responsible for the U.S. Attorney’s decision to investigate and pursue charges against the company.
We salute the residents in Boyle Heights, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, and other neighborhoods for bringing this polluter its day of reckoning.
Exide demonstrated little to no respect for the residents who live near its plant or care about the trail of contamination it has left in our air, water and land.
Nor did the company care that it exposed thousands of residents to unsafe levels of cancer causing chemicals.
But state regulators are also deserving of blame in this environmental debacle.
They allowed Exide to stay in operation even after the California Department of Toxic Substance Control cited the company repeatedly for its unsafe emission levels of lead and other contaminants, and its unsafe handling of hazardous waste.
Exide entered into an agreement in the fall of 2014 with state regulators to set aside $38.6 million for the environmental clean up of the recycling facility should it close down due to its inability to operate the facility in a safe manner.
But it wasn’t until a criminal investigation was launched by federal authorities — which included the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation — that Exide is finally being held responsible for what the company admits is its years of illegal handling of hazardous waste.
Unfortunately, the agreement does not send anyone to jail and gross polluters, like criminal bankers and stock manipulators, will escape incarceration.
And while local residents and environmental activists are cheering news that the Vernon battery recycling plant will not only be permanently closed but demolished, they lack faith in state regulators to ensure Exide lives up to the terms of its agreement with federal authorities,
Their doubts are not unreasonable, given the decades of inaction by state agencies.
Even Gov. Brown, California’s sometimes-environmental hero, vetoed a law that would have required stricter oversight of regulatory agencies.
It’s long past time for State Legislators to pass legislation –and the governor to sign – that will bring greater oversight of DTSC, AQMD, and to set tighter standards for closing down toxic polluters.