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Toxics Agency Overhaul Ordered by California Legislature

Sept. 1, 2020, 9:47 PM

California’s beleaguered toxics oversight agency could at last get an overhaul under a bill heading to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In the final hours of the 2-year legislative session the Senate and Assembly on Monday approved AB 995, which would create an oversight board for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, among other actions.

Newsom (D) has 30 days to sign or veto the bill. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, the governor proposed overhauling the agency in his initial budget but it was one of many policy and fiscal plans that died as the state grappled with an estimated $54 billion deficit brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The legislature’s June budget deferred action on the forming a board or giving authority to raise fees, which have not changed in decades.

If approved, the bill would impose a per ton waste generation fee, increase facility fees, add an ombudsman position, and take other actions. Assembly member Cristina Garcia (D), who authored the bill, said it would also raise $22 million to help stabilize the department’s finances.

The agency has long been criticized for lax oversight and ignoring the concerns of communities living alongside contaminated sites.

“If we are going to truly start to address the systemic racism in our systems, we need to take action now to fix a department that’s in charge of protecting the public’s health, especially those in low income communities of color where we are most likely to be over burdened with these toxics.” Garcia said in a news release.

Other Bills

Several other bills are heading to Newsom’s desk, including:

  • SB 182 would require cities and counties that update their housing plans as part of long-term community planning to include wildfire risk reduction elements for very high fire hazard areas; and that new housing developments in those area have fire-safe layouts, infrastructure, and other components that are fire-resilient.
  • SB 895 would require the state Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission provide technical assistance and development support for zero-emission fuels, fueling infrastructure, and technologies.
  • SB 1231 would grant a road corridor safety and access project in Monterey County permission to harass or kill the protected Santa Cruz long-toed salamander under certain conditions.

Other bills did not make it to final votes and died. They include:

  • AB 326 would have allowed for month-to-month memberships, rather than longer-term leases or purchase, of electric vehicles to expand access to clean cars.
  • AB 3074 would have required buildings in certain hazard areas have a five-foot zone around structures that are ember-resistant and that intense fuel reduction methods be applied between five and 30 feet around a building. This bill passed but was contingent on the passage of a wildfire resilience bill, SB 1348, which died.
  • SB 668 would have expanded the number of water suppliers that must have emergency preparedness plans and update them every five years.
  • SB 1012 would have required the state Geologic Energy Management Division to identify wells that have been idle for more than 3 years and whether those wells are under a management plan. The bill also would have required an Oil and Gas Supervisor make “reasonable efforts” to get well operators to cover the cost of plugging, abandoning or decommissioning wells.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily C. Dooley at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at