Consumer Watchdog Says Director of Top Toxics Regulator Should Not Be Confirmed in Wake of Exide Mismanagement, Refusal to House Clean Agency

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Santa Monica, CA—The Senate should not confirm Barbara Lee as Director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) based on her handling of serial polluter Exide, and lack of action to fundamentally reform the agency, Consumer Watchdog said today.

In testimony to the Senate Rules Committee confirmation hearing, Consumer Advocate Liza Tucker said Barbara Lee is not the reformer DTSC needs. “Far from being a reformer, Ms. Lee exemplifies everything that has been wrong with DTSC and will continue to be if she is confirmed.”

Consumer Watchdog said that Ms. Lee had “minimized and ignored” far more extensive led contamination than previously discovered from lead battery recycler, Exide, as uncovered by CBS last week.

View the CBS story:

“DTSC has had these results since April, but Ms. Lee did not inform the community, and did not announce a revised cleanup plan,” Tucker’s testimony states.

“Ms. Lee refused to answer CBS questions about this, but issued a statement that said in essence DTSC would not treat this as an emergency until people—children—exhibited signs of acute lead poisoning. Standing idle while children are poisoned is not a position of reform. It is emblematic of the old DTSC. …No exposure to lead is safe, especially for children whose IQs can be permanently damaged.”

“Until DTSC has a reformer at its head to house clean top managers who work more to protect polluters than the public, and to change its fundamental culture, no change will ensue and Californians will never be protected,” Consumer Watchdog wrote in a letter to the Senate Rules Committee last week.

Read the letter here:

Dozens of communities under toxic assault also wrote the Rules Committee last week saying that Ms. Lee had not won their support for confirmation because she had taken virtually no action in response to their specific requests to reform the department. Among those demands were denial of permits to serial polluters, and proper characterization and cleanup of toxic pollution affecting schools, businesses, and residences.

Tucker said that DTSC’s treatment of Exide—minimizing the dangers of toxic pollution while allowing serial toxic violators to keep their permits without meaningful enforcement—is echoed in other cases around the state.

Tucker’s testimony asks the Senate to resolve Lee’s irreconcilable statements about the Exide shutdown.

“The US Attorney shut down Exide without criminal prosecution because he said there was no other way to close the facility and still ensure cleanup. On the same day, only after that announcement, did Ms. Lee tell the Senate that she had informed Exide that it would not get a DTSC permit.  However, at a March air district hearing, Exide said it was investing millions and air regulators said that Exide was on track to reopen.

“There is a conflict between what Ms. Lee said, and what others knew, and the Senate needs to resolve it.”

She also said that DTSC continues to look for ways to limit the Exide cleanup.

“Right now, in its initial round of overseeing cleanup of several hundred homes, DTSC is refusing to test roofs and gutters for lead, although tests show lead contamination under downspouts,” Tucker said. “This means clean soil will be re-contaminated as soon as we have rain, or high winds.”

Tucker said that overseeing cleanups improperly—including land slated for housing and business development—might save polluters money, but leaves the public unprotected from toxic harm.

For more on DTSC, see:

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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