California Democratic Congressional Delegation Calls on DOJ and EPA to Reject Proposed Consent Decree and Settlement Agreement with Exide Holdings
Los Angeles – Today, Congressman Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), and members of California’s Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler expressing their strong opposition to the proposed consent decree and bankruptcy settlement with Exide Holdings, Inc., as well as convey their concern regarding the EPA and Department of Justice’s willingness to allow Exide to abandon their site in Vernon, CA, and abandon their responsibility for the environmental contamination it caused.
“For far too long, Exide has poisoned communities of color and immigrant communities with toxic contaminants like lead and arsenic, serving as a stark reminder that our fight for environmental justice and racial justice are inextricably linked, “said Congressman Gomez. “It’s time for Donald Trump’s Justice Department to stop ceding to corporate polluters like Exide, reject this proposed consent decree and bankruptcy settlement agreement, and finally hold them accountable for the devastation they unleashed on our most vulnerable residents. The victims of Exide’s recklessness deserve justice and nothing less, and those of us in California’s Democratic congressional delegation are determined to ensure that justice is secured.”
"To imagine even for one moment that a corporation like Exide could walk away from the environmental havoc that they have wrecked on my communities is unconscionable,” said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard. “For years, I have advocated for justice along with my East LA and Southeast LA constituents who have fought for urgent relief. That is why I am calling on the Department of Justice to abandon this reckless settlement agreement, and to involve the community on determining what is a fair resolution of this environmental catastrophe. Exide’s lead grossly contaminated the air and soil in our neighborhoods. We must ensure that Exide does not abandon the ethical and moral responsibility to ensure that our communities are cleaned-up.”
“The contamination caused from the operation of Exide’s lead smelter is a textbook case of environmental injustice,” wrote the lawmakers. “The communities nearby, which have been affected so severely from this contamination, are more than 90% Latino and disproportionately exposed more to environmental toxicants than the general population, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency’s California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool.”
The following Members of Congress signed the letter: Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Adam Schiff (CA-28), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32), Jerry McNerney (CA-09), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Judy Chu (CA-27), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Mike Thompson (CA-05), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Norma J. Torres (CA-35), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Ted W. Lieu (CA-33), Brad Sherman (CA-30), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Maxine Waters (CA-43).
Dear Attorney General Barr and Administrator Wheeler:
We are writing to express our opposition to the proposed consent decree on Exide Holdings, Inc., particularly as it relates to the Exide facility located in Vernon, California. We are very troubled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice are willing to allow Exide Holdings to abandon the site and eschew all responsibility for the environmental contamination it caused.
The facility is currently in closure status under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. It is our understanding the total cost of closure and corrective action at the facility is expected to exceed $88 million. Yet, this consent decree sets aside shockingly only $2.5 million dollars for this purpose.
The residents affected by the lead contamination from this facility number in the hundreds of thousands, and the State of California has already contributed over $200 million from its general fund toward the cleanup of the residences affected from the lead fallout. Estimates for the cleanup of the residential area and the commercial areas affected by the lead contamination can exceed $1 billion.
We remain very concerned about the tremendous environmental liabilities that this consent decree leaves unaddressed, while families and landowners in East and Southeast Los Angeles affected by this lead contamination have no other recourse to pursue the cleanup of their property. Currently, more than 4,700 properties have been tested and are in need of remediation. We are convinced this consent decree undermines the precedent for the closure and remediation of other contaminated properties across the nation and the intent of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act’s provisions regarding the retroactive responsibility of the responsible firm.
The contamination caused from the operation of Exide’s lead smelter is a textbook case of environmental injustice. The communities nearby, which have been affected so severely from this contamination, are more than 90% Latino and disproportionately exposed more to environmental toxicants than the general population, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency’s California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool.
Decades of research tie early childhood exposure to lead with crippling adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes: decreased intelligence, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorder. The Centers for Disease Control have found that there is no safe level of exposure for children to lead.
Many researchers and environmental forensics experts have identified contaminated soils from lead smelters as a leading contributor to blood lead levels in children from smelter communities. This is due to the fact that these contaminated soils become a dynamic pool of urban lead that becomes a continual pool of exposure, both to the unborn and small children.
Lead aerosols from facilities like the Exide Vernon smelter re-suspend themselves in the air after being deposited nearby. Then these particles re-contaminate nearby communities, particularly during dry, hot summer and fall months. One study found that over 87% of the total lead in the blood of children living near a lead smelter was from soil and dust.
Under this proposed consent decree, Exide accepts no responsibility for the outrageous contamination it has caused in East and Southeast Los Angeles, and can abandon its highly contaminated property along with the surrounding contamination its operations have caused. The surrounding communities and the State would be left to manage a costly and drawn-out cleanup process. We strongly oppose this outcome.
We are asking you both to extend the public comment period by 60 days so that the relevant stakeholders can more appropriately review the consent decree and we are also requesting a public hearing on this matter.Thank you for your consideration. We respectfully urge you to ensure full transparency and accountability of Exide before the Exide Holdings, Inc. Consent Decree and Settlement Agreement is finalized. We look forward to a favorable response that will address the urgent need for a public meeting and extension of the public comment period.