Gov. George Deukmejian’s plan to establish an agency to clean up toxic wastes easily won Senate approval on Friday, setting the stage for an Assembly vote and the possibility of a hard-fought victory for the Administration.
Despite opposition arguments that the governor’s plan would complicate and delay the state’s anti-pollution efforts, the Senate voted 30 to 8 to give Deukmejian the tools he has said he needs to assist cleaning up hundreds of hazardous waste dump and spill sites.
“In a few months, in a year, we are going to be asking the question . . . whether we in the state are better off as the result of this change in administration,” said Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles).
As Roberti and other Democrats are aware, a year from now Deukmejian will be in the middle of a reelection campaign. Already the state’s hazardous waste pollution problem looms as an issue in the gubernatorial contest. Deukmejian and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a likely Democratic candidate, have already exchanged barbs on state and urban cleanup efforts.
The battle spilled over into the Legislature, where Deukmejian needed approval for his proposal to create a department of waste management, a state waste commission and three regional waste commissions to take over enforcement of the state’s hazardous waste and clean water laws.
Blame the Democrats
If the governor should lose this battle, he would use that next year, charging that the Democrat opposition “was dragging its heels in providing a method of solving this hazardous waste problem,” said former Sen. Gordon Cologne (R-Indio), the author of the state’s 1969 Clean Water Act who was hired by Deukmejian to push the Administration proposal through the Legislature.
But if Deukmejian gets his new department, he would have little time to savor his success, according to Cologne. Under the measure, the governor will only have until January to set up the department and commissions and then not much time to show progress in cleaning up toxic pollution.
“I would say he doesn’t have any excuse anymore,” Cologne said. “The ball is in his court now. He’s got the tools. He won’t be able to solve the whole problem before November (1986), but he’s got to make some major strides by the middle of the summer. He’s got to do something before the election.”
And the Democrats who finally agreed to a compromise with Cologne may have had November, 1986, in mind when they gave Deukmejian much of what he wanted.
“The most partisan Democrats, the ones with safe districts, will embarrass the governor any way they can,” one highly placed Republican said. “But the smarter ones, the leadership, know that on both toxics and prisons, if they don’t give the governor what they want, they will suffer not only some immediate embarrassment, but they will have to bear the responsibility down the line if there are problems.”
Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte) helped lead the fight when Assembly Democrats scuttled Deukmejian’s first toxics proposal in June on a 46-31 vote. But once the Administration brought in Cologne and showed its willingness to work with the Democratic leadership, she agreed to carry the proposal.
She conceded that some Democrats object to handing the governor what he can claim as a legislative victory.
“There are those who feel this will give the governor some leverage to say ‘See what I’ve done as far as toxics,’ ” Tanner said. “But this is so serious a problem that I am not willing to let us be guided by possible gubernatorial politics.”
Enforcement of state rules for the storage, transport, disposal and clean up of toxic wastes is shared by the State Water Resources Control Board, nine regional water boards and the state Department of Health Services.
Under the new plan, those agencies would turn over their enforcement power to the new department. The state Waste Commission and the three regional commissions would hear appeals of the director’s decisions and cleanup orders, and would draft a five-year cleanup plan. However, the state and regional water boards would continue to be responsible for problems caused by agricultural runoff.
Democratic critics and environmentalists complained that the toxics measure may add to cleanup delays and they charge that the composition of the new commissions will be stacked in favor of the regulated industries.