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Taxpayers, not company, will pay for massive Exide toxic cleanup, under plan OK'd by court

By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The Trump administration, through the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, supported Exide's plan, which also leaves behind toxic sites in several other states. Those sites too remain a threat to public health and the environment.

The Justice Department said it received more than 1,000 written public comments in opposition to the proposal, which was released three weeks ago and provided the public eight business days to weigh in. More than 650 people called in to a five-hour public hearing Tuesday, with 125 people giving oral testimony that was "universally and strenuously and sometimes emotionally opposed to approval," according to a Justice Department filing.

Community outrage did nothing to change the position of the Justice Department, which urged the approval of the plan in a court document a day later, saying it "seeks to salvage a bad situation and avoid the chaos of abandonment" by a company that is "running out of all funding and liquidating."

California refused to sign on to the settlement, in which the state would receive $2.6 million in exchange for a broad release from liability. The state has already set aside more than $270 million toward cleaning thousands of homes surrounding the facility with elevated levels of lead in the soil.

If California had agreed to the plan, the Vernon property would have been placed into an environmental response trust charged with cleaning the site. Instead, the company moved forward with a "nonconsensual" plan that would impose a release of liability and abandon the property.

Judge Sontchi's ruling, however, required that California be allowed to file an administrative claim if the property is abandoned. Under the decision, the property may be abandoned on Oct. 30, giving the state two weeks to take over the site.

 

"If they're unable to transfer this property in the next two weeks, it's because of their own bureaucracy or their own inability to act," Sontchi said.

An attorney for the state said it may seek to appeal the decision.

The facility, which sits on a 15-acre site, remains half-demolished and partially covered in a tent-like enclosure of white plastic sheeting, scaffolding, and a negative pressure system designed to prevent the release of lead, arsenic and other hazardous pollutants.

The enclosure requires daily maintenance to prevent tears, according to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. Earlier this week the department issued a document saying the Vernon site may pose an "imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health or welfare or to the environment," which officials called a protective measure to give it more power to take steps needed to protect the community from the release of pollution if the site is abandoned.

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