Corporate Polluter Exide Plans to Abandon Vernon Facility, Legislators and Community Leaders Fight Back

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

(Los Angeles) – Today, Assembly Member Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), elected officials and community leaders held an outdoor, socially-distanced press conference to strongly oppose Exide’s proposed bankruptcy settlement, particularly regarding to the option for Exide to fully abandon its facility in Vernon and all responsibility to clean the environmental damage it has caused. California demands that Exide be held fully accountable for the lead poisoning of the environment and the surrounding residents. Specifically, legislators and community leaders demand the U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. DOJ) 1) extend the public comment period to 60 days instead of 8 days, 2) hold a public hearing in Los Angeles to allow for full community participation, and 3) oppose Exide’s proposed plan to abandon the Vernon Facility.

“Exide must be held accountable for the toxic environmental damage they have caused over decades,” said Assembly Member Miguel Santiago. “For too many years, we’ve seen how corporations pollute our working class immigrant communities and walk away unscathed. We’re sick and tired  of these injustices and demand the U.S. DOJ oppose Exide’s proposal to abandon its highly contaminated Vernon site.”

“The State of California had a deal with Exide, but now the federal administration seems ready to let them walk away from their responsibilities,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood). “We must stand up to prevent future toxic disasters. Exide must pay for the damage it has done to the environment and to our communities.”

"We are asking for the Department of Justice to live up to its name and ensure justice for my community. My community has been treated like we are disposable for generations, enough! Attorney General William Barr needs to hold Exide accountable and not allow it to take advantage of the bankruptcy process to walk away. We must also reform DTSC to insure that they get proper financial assurances from businesses when they are permitted to prevent another Exide from happening again," stated Assembly Member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens).

Assembly Member Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) added, “Exide has contaminated Los Angeles communities for decades. Their actions now further prove their refusal to take responsibility for the negligence which has had many devastating effects on the health and well-being of children and families. DTSC allowed Exide to operate without proper oversight for years, thereby allowing Exide to pollute and poison our communities with no consequence. Exide should not be allowed to walk away from this environmental disaster and their responsibilities to clean it up through a bankruptcy. We demand and deserve justice.” 

“The communities surrounding the former Exide lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon demand the cleanup of the site,” said Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles). “Exide is using a bankruptcy filing to wash its hand clean of responsibility and the U.S. Department of Justice is in favor of allowing it to abandon the site and evade environmental responsibilities. We cannot allow these bad actors to pollute our communities and walk away without paying the price. They polluted our land, they need to remediate it. We will not stand down!”

"It is not right that our families, our homes and natural resources can be contaminated by companies like Exide and be so easily “let off the hook,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). Thousands of families in my district now have higher risk of developing cancer, breathing diseases, and learning problems, all because Exide released harmful levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals into our communities. If this rushed bankruptcy does not have a proper public comment period and public hearing, our families will have no voice and potentially have to pay for this recklessness every day of their lives with their health and with millions of dollars of public funds; their tax dollars that instead could be used for other much needed services and resources.  I strongly oppose one sided compromises that allow the option for Exide to fully abandon the facility in Vernon, California and demand real restoration for our community."

“I am strongly opposed to the proposed settlement between Exide and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “It fails to hold Exide and its predecessors accountable for decades of environmental contamination caused by the Vernon facility in the surrounding communities of Boyle Heights, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Commerce, Bell, and Huntington Park – all of which I represent.  I urge the Federal Government to extend the public comment period on this matter and hold a public hearing so that community residents can voice their concerns and be heard.  Wealthy corporations and their executives are not above the law.  Los Angeles County and I will continue to stand firmly with those who live in the impacted communities.”

"Today, elected officials across Los Angeles came together in our shared mission to secure justice for the victims of Exide’s recklessness,” said Congressman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles). “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 the fight for environmental justice and racial justice are inextricably linked. It’s time for Donald Trump’s Justice Department to stop ceding to corporate polluters like Exide and finally hold them accountable for the devastation they unleashed on our most vulnerable residents."

“The Department of Justice must not let Exide abandon its responsibilities to the affected community,” said Jane Williams, Executive Director at California Communities Against Toxics.

For decades, Exide emitted lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other toxic pollutants into its property and into the surrounding community. The company also contaminated groundwater and released battery acid onto roads. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control estimates that properties up to 1.7 miles away from the facility may potentially be affected by Exide’s lead contamination, or roughly 10,000 properties. In 2015, the U.S. DOJ agreed not to prosecute Exide for violations of hazardous waste law in exchange for ceasing operations at the Vernon facility and agreeing to safely close and remediate the facility. Just 5 years later, Exide is now seeking release from these remediation requirements. Furthermore, the U.S. DOJ has agreed to not oppose Exide’s option to abandon the highly contaminated site. Between the non-prosecution agreement and this proposed bankruptcy settlement, Exide will face only minor consequences despite the overwhelming damage it has caused to the environment and public health. The U.S. DOJ has only offered the public 8 business days to respond to this public settlement, compared to the typical 30 days comment period for most bankruptcy settlements. This short comment period limits the transparency of a decision that will affect hundreds of thousands of lives.

To read the letter sent by legislators to U.S. Attorney General William Barr please click here and to watch the press conference please click here.

Assembly Member Miguel Santiago is the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance and the Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Los Angeles County Homelessness. He also sits on the Assembly Committees on Public Safety, Health, Higher Education and Utilities and Energy. He represents the 53rd District composed of the cities of Los Angeles, Huntington Park, and Vernon.