New Report Exposes Boeing Influence Peddling That Derailed Cleanup of a Partial Nuclear Meltdown Site Near L.A.

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SANTA MONICA, CA – A new report released by Consumer Watchdog today documents how Boeing and its influential fixers derailed the cleanup of a partial nuclear meltdown site in greater Los Angeles with help from their regulators at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

“When Governor Jerry Brown took office in 2011 and appointed Debbie Raphael to lead the DTSC, a thorough cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory was abandoned to the detriment of the public health,” wrote advocate Liza Tucker in Inside Job. “Boeing accomplished this reversal by employing fixers to ensure that government officials would change course and allow most of the contamination to be left behind.” Debbie Raphael abruptly resigned as DTSC Director last month.

To read Inside Job, click here:

The six-month investigative report traces how Boeing used former environmental regulators and Brown aides, as well as other skilled operatives, to drastically weaken cleanup standards for the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Simi Hills. Boeing owns the majority of the heavily contaminated site used for decades by the federal government to test nuclear reactors, rocket engines, and munitions.

Governor Brown may not have been aware of the events described in the report, Consumer Watchdog wrote in a separate letter to him. “We provide you this information to inform you and ask you to take this report into serious consideration to fix the dysfunctional leadership at the DTSC. We also ask that you put a full cleanup at the lab back on track.”

Click here to read the letter:

“Big polluters hire well-connected hired guns to derail cleanups, and in the process the public gets hurt,” said Tucker. “This case is emblematic of how this is done every day at other toxic sites around the state, and it’s why we need the Governor to appoint a reformer to head the DTSC from outside the department.” Consumer Watchdog also asked the governor to put a full cleanup of Santa Susana back on track.

The report, based on documents obtained via the Public Records Act, information provided by current and former insiders, community members, environmentalists, and legislative staffers, concludes that after Governor Brown took office in 2011 and appointed Debbie Raphael as Director of the DTSC:

•Boeing captured DTSC, including its former Director Debbie Raphael, with help from former government officials—including some that worked for Jerry Brown in his first administration—to pressure their own former subordinates and others to reverse cleanup.

•Boeing benefited from the removal of four regulators who had championed full cleanup of the site.

•The Brown Administration cut a deal with Boeing that stipulated away the right to contest virtually any Boeing assertions of material fact in the lawsuit that Boeing filed against a state cleanup law.

•Boeing lobbyists killed off legislation to codify legal agreements for full cleanup signed by NASA and DOE, who are also responsible for contamination at the site. This allowed Boeing to continue pressing regulators to loosen cleanup standards.

•DTSC regulators ultimately approved Boeing’s plan to stop far short of a full cleanup at the site out of public view, in violation of previous legal agreements that DTSC itself had signed, and in violation of prior DTSC commitments.

•DTSC dissolved a long-standing Inter-Agency Work Group that had held regulators accountable for their cleanup commitments, and replaced it with a group conceived of and supported by Boeing that pushes for leaving most contamination behind.

•DTSC abdicated state authority over the cleanup of Santa Susana to Boeing—the very party responsible for the contamination—in violation of the public trust.

Some 35 other groups have written the Governor in a separate letter with a similar request that he appoint an independent new DTSC Director from outside the California EPA.

Click here to read the letter:

In the Santa Susana case, Boeing used teams of hired guns to influence regulators to relax cleanup standards, among them:

•Winston Hickox of California Strategies LLC was an aide on the environment to Governor Brown in his first administration, and later served as Secretary of the California EPA.

•Peter Weiner of Paul Hastings was a former aide on toxics to Governor Brown in his first administration.

•Robert Hoffman of Paul Hastings served as former DTSC Chief Counsel and then as Chief of Staff to former CalEPA Secretary Winston Hickox.

•Charles Stringer, a principal in the consulting firm Renewable Resources Group, is Chair of the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board that is supposed to enforce Boeing water violations at Santa Susana.

•Gary Polakovic is head of the public relations firm Make Over Earth who handled media strategy for Boeing.

Consumer Watchdog first exposed deep problems at the DTSC in a 2013 report called Golden Wasteland. The report documented cases from around the state where DTSC regulators fell down on the job of protecting communities from toxic harm. In September 2013, Consumer Watchdog and three other groups filed suit against the DTSC and Department of Public Health for the illegal demolition and disposal of radioactive debris from Santa Susana. A judge granted a motion for preliminary injunction against the DTSC pending the final outcome.

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Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, following everything from oil and gas to the regulation of toxic substances in the state of California. She comes to us from Marketplace, the largest U.S. broadcast show on business and economics heard by ten million listeners each week on 400 radio stations. Liza worked at this public radio show for a decade, first as Commentary Editor and then as Senior Editor for both Washington and Sustainability News.

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