Veto Hurts Bid to Block Toxic Waste Project

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian on Monday vetoed a bill that local politicians and community leaders had hoped would bolster their two-year effort to block construction of a controversial hazardous waste incinerator in Vernon.

Co-authored by Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) of the 56th District, which includes Vernon, the bill would have amended state law by requiring hazardous waste companies to conduct detailed environmental impact studies on all hazardous waste incinerators in the state.

The bill was drafted in response to a plan by California Thermal Treatment Services of Garden Grove to build a $29-million toxic waste incinerator on Bandini Boulevard. It is the first commercial incinerator in the state planned for a metropolitan area.

Opponents contend that the waste disposal facility would threaten the health of residents in the heavily populated area of Southeast Los Angeles County, and complain that state and local agencies have not required an environmental impact report for the project.

"That is great news for us," said project general manager Donald Bright, who has argued that an environmental impact report would cost the company millions of dollars and would delay work for more than a year. "We can now get on with (building the facility)."

Company officials still need approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before they can begin construction, Bright said. If approved by the EPA, the plant could begin operating by next summer, he said.

The federal agency is considering whether to approve the proposed toxic waste incinerator without an environmental impact study.

But opponents, who have tried to stop the plant by collecting petitions, filing lawsuits and staging protests, blasted Deukmejian for vetoing the bill. They charged that the governor, by vetoing the bill, has put the interests of company officials over the concerns of local residents, most of whom live in poor, largely Latino neighborhoods and lack political clout.

"I'm very angry that the governor would act so irresponsibly," Roybal-Allard said.

Roybal-Allard noted that the bill had received bipartisan support in the Assembly and Senate.

U.S. Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) also criticized the governor, declaring: "It just shows that the governor does not care about the people in the state." The incinerator would process an estimated 22,400 tons a year of hazardous sludge, solvents and industrial liquids, as well as infectious debris from hospitals.

Although not mentioning the Vernon project by name, Deukmejian wrote in a one-page letter explaining his reasons for vetoing the bill: "I am concerned about subjecting hazardous waste incineration facilities that are currently in the permit process to the provisions of this bill."

The state Department of Health Services in July ordered an environmental impact report to be prepared, but later reversed its decision.

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