LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Los Angeles County official Wednesday called for legal action against a battery recycling plant in Vernon which authorities say has operated without a permit for decades.
Supervisor Gloria Molina held a rally outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration along with environmental justice advocates, community activists, and concerned Boyle Heights residents to urge the Board of Supervisors to move against Exide Technologies.
Following the rally, the Board of Supervisors voted to have county attorneys evaluate options to force a shutdown of the Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon and the clean-up of contamination in nearby neighborhoods.
Molina accused Gov. Jerry Brown and state regulators of reaching a "secret agreement" to issue a permit for the plant - one that Molina said doesn't nearly go far enough to protect members of the community.
Brown signed a bill in September that requires the state Department of Toxic Substances to either issue a permanent permit or shut the plant down by the end of 2015.
"It is hard for me to control the kind of temper that I have," said Molina, who told reporters that the governor would not return her calls and was showing disrespect to the citizens of Boyle Heights.
Regulators would be more responsive if the pollution from the plant were affecting "a different kind of neighborhood," Molina added.
Exide is struggling to reopen the plant after the company agreed last week to set aside nearly $50 million to meet demands by state regulators.
"This is not an order, it is a very weak agreement that can evaporate at any time," LA County Director of Environmental Health Angelo Bellomo said.
The Department of Toxic Substances has ordered Exide to set aside $38.6 million for cleanup costs if its Vernon plant ever closes. Such funding is required for hazardous material facilities.
Exide also was ordered to put aside $9 million to clean up two neighborhoods that may have been contaminated by airborne lead from the plant. Tests have found lead in dozens of yards.
But Molina said the community is still being shortchanged despite the action taken by state regulators.
"When the DTSC made this backroom deal with Exide, the Boyle Heights community was not at the table - and they deserve better assurances than what they got, which was full of loopholes," Molina said in a statement. "We need faster, more solid guarantees that this toxic hazard - which has festered for far too long - will be cleaned up to the community's satisfaction."
Exide - which is the worst lead polluter in California and the third worst lead polluter in the entire U.S. - smelted 25,000 batteries a day at the plant. It closed in March until it can meet requirements from regional anti-pollution regulators.
DTSC responded with a statement, saying, "This is no deal for Exide. It is an enforcement order that binds the company to clean up the community and set aside funds to do the work. This is just the beginning."
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