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Toxic Waste Plan Must Be Fixed, Roberti Says

Times Staff Writer

The state Senate will not approve Gov. George Deukmejian’s controversial toxic waste reorganization proposal without an “up-front agreement” to correct what Administration officials concede are errors in the plan, Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti said Tuesday.

As sentiment appeared to mount in the Legislature to reject the plan to establish a new hazardous waste department, Roberti called on the governor to make a strong, public commitment to resolving numerous disagreements over the proposal.

“I think we have to have some kind of agreement on every point,” the Los Angeles Democrat said in an interview. “We’ve got a huge list.”

Deukmejian has proposed creation of a cabinet-level agency that would combine functions performed by numerous other agencies and take over central authority for the state’s enforcement of hazardous waste laws.

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However, Democrats and environmentalists charge that the complex plan also would weaken laws regulating water quality, relax controls on toxic agricultural drainage water and ease standards for the underground storage of chemicals.

Under the legislative mechanism chosen by the governor, the reorganization plan will go into effect July 15 unless either the Assembly or the Senate vetoes it. Neither house can make any changes in the plan.

Health and Welfare Secretary David Swoap, testifying before the Senate Government Organization Committee on Tuesday, repeated his earlier statement that the plan contains “drafting errors.” He suggested these could be corrected in a follow-up bill.

Corrections Promised

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“We have said repeatedly we will correct whatever defects exist,” Swoap testified.

Swoap, however, has refused to commit himself to a specific solution to try to correct the errors before the July 15 deadline. Some legislators have questioned whether Swoap’s assurances would guarantee that their concerns will be addressed afterwards.

Further complicating the issue, Swoap and legislators are split over whether their differences stem from mere drafting errors or whether they reflect a desire by the Administration to weaken environmental controls.

Swoap said during a break in the hearing that there are four drafting errors--two more than he previously had acknowledged. But legislators cited at least 19 sections in the plan that they say would weaken enforcement of toxic waste laws.

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At last week’s hearing, Swoap’s senior deputy, Jack Wimer, acknowledged that one of the drafting errors was a “foul-up” that would exempt from regulation future situations like the selenium contamination that caused death and birth defects in birds at the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge.

Roberti, who was present for part of Swoap’s testimony, said later he was not sure whether the problems can be ironed out before the reorganization plan would take effect.

“There has to be an up-front agreement,” Roberti said. “I’m not saying at this point whether these things can be solved in a companion bill or a public posture on the part of the governor, or whether it will entail altogether new legislation.”

The Senate leader said he was especially concerned that the governor’s plan would weaken landmark legislation enacted last year that resulted in the closure of Kesterson. He also expressed concern that the proposal would dilute the enforcement power of state and regional water quality boards.

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It was the Water Resources Control Board in February that ordered the federal government to come up with a plan to clean up Kesterson. As a result, the federal Bureau of Reclamation ordered Kesterson shut down by next summer.


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