Mike Rogge

Senate Rules sends Lee for confirmation as DTSC Director

By Mike Rogge

Capitol Update, July 17, 2015 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

Barbara Lee was appointed Director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) on December 1, 2014 by Governor Brown, subject to Senate Rules Committee approval and confirmation by the full Senate.


Ms. Lee previously served as the Executive Officer for the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District for almost 20 years. During that period, she was elected President of the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (CAPCOA) on three occasions. In addition, she served as co-chair of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) Environmental Justice (EJ) Advisory Committee from 2005-2007, where she had been a member since 2001.


On Wednesday, July 15th, Ms. Lee appeared before Senate Rules and was grilled for over three hours. DTSC has been under assault for a number of years. While pollution from the now- closed Exide battery plant in Vernon has captured most of the headlines, the department has also been disparaged by environmental justice activists for the Kettleman City disposal of hazardous waste, the Boeing remediation at the old Rocketdyne Santa Susanna Field Laboratory site, and having severe problems recovering hundreds of millions of dollars in remediation costs for contaminated sites from now defunct responsible parties.


The problems did not occur overnight and definitely not on Ms. Lee’s watch. The department has had 10 directors or interim directors in the last 20 years which is far from conducive to solving the existing problems and what is at least perceived as a culture problem within DTSC.


Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) stated that he felt that DTSC has the image of being “cozy with industry” and questioned why the department had never sent any issues to the Attorney General’s office. He characterized the job as requiring a “changer, a provocateur” with the clear message that she needed to be making significant senior management job changes. He stated that it is “Go Time” and that he expected her to “act with urgency.” Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) told Ms. Lee that “Time is not on your side!”  She needs to restore the public’s confidence in DTSC.


A handful of people (including Michael Shaw, CMTA V.P., Government Relations, and many of her previous colleagues from CAPCOA) spoke in favor of Ms. Lee. Only one group, Consumer Watchdog, asked for a veto of her confirmation. However, more than 15 EJ organizations spoke at length and requested that her confirmation be put on hold.


Senator De León acknowledged that he would be inclined to put her confirmation on hold but that the timing did not permit it. The Senate would have to review her again before 12 months was up on December 1 and that would only leave the one month after they return from summer recess (July 17-August 16), when almost 2,000 bills have to get through the Legislature. He did, however, make her promise: 1) Not to fight and, in fact, cooperate with the permit oversight advisory committee that would be formed in his current Hazardous Waste Permitting bill, SB 654  (CMTA leg info |  expanded info); 2) To put a process in place to deal with hazardous waste and contamination issues surrounding Kettleman City and reaching out to the EJ community in the area to keep them informed; and 3) To aggressively pursue recovery of the millions of dollars owed for contaminated site clean-up. Ms. Lee agreed.


Senator De León also made it clear that he would hold next year’s General Fund budget for DTSC over her head if she failed to comply. He said that DTSC needed “a stick not a carrot.” With that, the committee approved her candidacy to go before the Senate. Approval there should be a formality.


The hearing was concluded with Senator De León instructing Ms. Lee to call his office and schedule a meeting for her and Mr. Rodriquez (Secretary of CalEPA) to come in and discuss the Senator’s expectations of DTSC.

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