Consumer Watchdog Calls for Firing of Top Toxic Officials After Fair Political Practices Commission Launches Investigation

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SANTA MONICA, CA –Following news that the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) will investigate a top toxics regulator for financial conflicts of interest, Consumer Watchdog today reiterated its call for the firing of two top officials at the Department of Toxic Substances Control who invested as much as six and seven figures into companies that the DTSC regulates or licenses. The non-profit, non-partisan public interest group made a complaint to FPPC last month.

It was the second time that the non-partisan public interest group called for the dismissal of Chief Deputy Director Odette Madriago and Deputy Director Stewart Black. Thousands of Californians have written Governor Brown calling for their removal.

“Though you say you want to clean house, the people running your department are tainted by the specter of impropriety,” wrote consumer advocate Liza Tucker in a letter to DTSC Director Debbie Raphael today. “When the chief deputy of your agency invests up to $100,000 in Chevron and does not want to regulate the refinery industry, you have to willfully turn a blind eye not to see something is terribly wrong. This is why people do not trust government.”

See letter here:

The letter calls for Ms. Raphael to:

  • Use powers to heavily fine refiners like Chevron for toxic pollution
  • Revoke permits of serial violators of environmental laws such as hazardous waste recyclers Evergreen Oil in Newark and Phibro-Tech in Santa Fe Springs
  • Deny new permits to serial violators of environmental laws and to companies that have unfinished corrective actions such as Phibro-Tech and Chemical Waste Management at Kettleman Hills hazardous waste dump.
  • Hire 130 criminal investigators onto staff by 2014, up from 13 now.
  • Aggressively investigate and refer for prosecution cases of toxic pollution such as the poisoned community of Wildomar.

In recent months, the DTSC has refused to sanction Chevron for its toxic refinery fire in Richmond last summer that sent thousands to the hospital. In addition, Ms. Madriago accompanied Ms. Raphael to visit Chevron operations last year, and has in the past been primary liaison between the hazardous waste management program, the legislature, and industry lobbyists.

The non-profit public interest group turned up the financial conflicts of interest as part of its six-month investigation of the DTSC that led to its scathing report on the department’s failure to protect communities from toxic harm, Golden Wasteland.

See report here:

Said Tucker, “These conflicts are a symptom of the department’s capture by the very industry it is supposed to regulate.” The group’s Golden Wasteland report documented that capture, and outlined how the department has failed to protect eight communities poisoned by hazardous waste processors that habitually violate environmental laws.

DTSC Director Debbie Raphael posted a response to the report, titled “Restoring Public Confidence in DTSC,” on March 21. “Your formal, posted response admits that the department has lost public confidence, but you do little to restore it,” Tucker wrote.

“You did not address a single member among eight communities we highlighted as under toxic siege because of the department’s failure to protect them from harm,” the letter said.
“A state’s environmental laws are only as good as its enforcement,” the letter concludes. “Will you move forward with exercising the power already vested in the department to protect communities and the environment from toxic harm? Or will you continue on the current path that sends the public you work for, the regulated community, and your own staff exactly the wrong message?”

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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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