The state Senate's Environmental Quality Committee has scheduled a hearing on the Department of Toxic Substances Control's oversight of hazardous waste operations in California, officials announced Tuesday.
The Jan. 15 hearing in Sacramento will address concerns about the agency's permitting of hazardous waste operations, its enforcement record and its tracking of 1.7 million tons of hazardous waste shipped for disposal each year.
A Los Angeles Times investigation published last year found that the agency's tracking system, required by state law, was so flawed that officials could not account for 174,000 tons of hazardous material shipped for disposal in the last five years.
The Times also reported that the agency is often slow to act and ineffectual in its regulation of hazardous waste operations. In one case, a battery recycler in Vernon whose lead and arsenic emissions have, according to air quality regulators, endangered the health of residents in southeast Los Angeles County, has been smelting batteries for decades with only a temporary permit.
"We have a responsibility to oversee this department and to make sure they are doing a sufficient job to protect the public," said state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), chairman of the committee. "My goal is that the hearing will identify ways the Legislature can take a more active role in the success of hazardous waste enforcement and permitting."
In a statement, department spokeswoman Tamma Adamek said officials "look forward to meeting with the committee to discuss the strong steps we have taken in the past three years, and what steps we will take in the future, to strengthen our oversight of hazardous waste in California."
Debbie Raphael, who took over as director in 2011, has brought some of the department's problems to light and has pledged to fix them, including the agency's failure to collect $140 million from hundreds of companies for the cost of cleaning up contaminated land from 1987 to 2012.
Raphael also commissioned a study that found that a quarter of the state's hazardous waste facilities are operating on expired permits.
The committee plans to hear testimony on proposed legislation aimed at fixing the problems.
State Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) has introduced a bill requiring the department to speed up permitting decisions. State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has proposed another law aimed at Exide Technologies, the Vernon battery recycler. It would require all hazardous waste facilities in the state to obtain a final permit by 2015 or be shut down.
"The focus," De Leon said, "is to strengthen our efforts to make sure toxic waste doesn't pollute our most vulnerable communities."
Times staff writer Kim Christensen contributed to this report.