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Groups call for investigation of EPA inaction at Torrance refinery

Groups call for investigation of EPA inaction at Torrance refinery
The Torrance Refinery in 2016. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

After federal inspectors uncovered what they reported to be serious hazardous waste violations at the Torrance refinery, the incoming Trump administration chose not to pursue them, dismaying the team that visited the facility.

Now, environmental groups are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency's watchdog office to investigate.

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Environment California and the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington group, filed an official request asking the inspector general "to undertake an investigation to determine whether enforcement against this facility was improperly or unreasonably deferred."

A Los Angeles Times story published earlier this month featured one of the inspectors who discovered the violations -- which included hundreds of tons of hazardous waste being improperly stored on the site for 26 years -- expressing concern that politics played a role in the EPA inaction. The agency has refused to comment on its decision not to act on the long list of draft violations its staff drew up.

The EPA says the investigation is still ongoing, nearly a year after the inspection team filed its report. Instead of issuing the violations suggested, the EPA passed the report on to the state, which has significantly less experience identifying and responding to the type of hazardous waste problems the EPA spotted. The state has yet to take action.

The letter the advocacy groups sent to the agency's inspector general says the EPA inaction is particularly concerning in light of the facility's history. An explosion at the refinery in 2015 was a "serious near miss" that could have resulted in a "potentially catastrophic release" into surrounding communities, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

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