Gov. George Deukmejian announced Saturday that he signed legislation providing $121 million for the cleanup of hazardous waste dumps and spill sites that pose threats to neighborhoods and drinking water supplies.
The measures will enable the state to begin spending $100 million in bond money approved by voters last November for cleanups around the state and an additional $21 million from the state general fund targeted for cleanup efforts at the Stringfellow acid pits near Riverside and at numerous San Gabriel Valley sites where spills of industrial solvents have polluted drinking water supplies.
At Stringfellow Acid Disposal Pits, where 35 million gallons of hazardous materials have been dumped since 1972, a plume of toxic pollutants is slowly moving toward the Chino underground basin, which supplies water for 500,000 residents of Los Angeles and Riverside counties. The state funds are intended to halt that movement until federal officials can come up with a full-scale cleanup effort.
Deukmejian announced the bill signings during his weekly radio address, which he also used to repeat his attack on Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and other Assembly Democrats for failing to approve a bill creating a new Department of Waste Management.
The Administration wanted the new agency to consolidate the enforcement of most of the state’s clean water and hazardous waste statutes under a department head who would report directly to the governor.
The people of the state, Deukmejian said, “deserve better than the kind of wheeling and dealing that the Democratic leadership used to torpedo serious action on toxics.”
Specifically, the governor again faulted the Democrats for tying the measure creating the new toxics agency to an unrelated bill by Assemblyman Louis J. Papan (D-Millbrae) that would have increased by $142 a month the amount of income that a disabled couple could keep and still be eligible for Medi-Cal benefits.
Although Deukmejian denounced the practice of linking the unrelated bills together as “political extortion,” his own lieutenants a week ago urged Assembly Republicans to vote for the Papan bill in order to win approval for the new toxics agency.
It was only after Assembly Republicans refused to support the Papan bill as Deukmejian aides had asked that Brown adjourned the Assembly until January without a vote on the governor’s waste management proposal. The Papan bill was defeated.
The measures that Deukmejian signed into law were themselves part of a growing, partisan debate over the Administration’s commitment to toxics cleanup that marked the legislative session.
The Administration wanted quick approval of the $100-million measure early in the 1985-86 session so the state could begin spending the funds as early as last February.
But Democratic lawmakers were sharply critical of the specific plans for cleaning up hazardous waste dumps and spill sites around the state. Some charged that the Administration was delaying work on toxic dumps like Stringfellow, which represented the most serious threats to public health, and focusing instead on a larger number of easy-to-clean-up sites.
The Democrats were also sharply critical of Deukmejian for vetoing $25 million in funding for toxics-related programs that the Legislature had added to the governor’s proposed 1985-86 budget. Deukmejian on Saturday called for all sides to “put the toxics and public health above petty politics.”
But the adequacy of the Administration’s hazardous waste cleanup efforts is already promising to become an issue in 1986, when Deukmejian has said he will seek reelection. He has not formally declared his candidacy.
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a likely contender for the Democratic nomination for governor, has been peppering away at Deukmejian’s toxics record.
And for his part, Deukmejian has been boasting that his Administration has cleaned up many more sites than that of his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.
“We have already been involved in the cleanup of more than 100 toxic sites of varying degrees of severity over the last three years,” Deukmejian said.
But Administration and legislative audits have raised questions about how deep the involvement has been at many of the sites. In June, a Department of Health Services audit team described the role of department officials as “intermittent” at about 30 of 112 sites that the Administration claimed to have cleaned up since it took office. At 15 sites, the department merely had correspondence or verbal exchanges with responsible local government or industry officials, the auditors said.