Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Town hall meeting offers little satisfaction for people living near Exide's Vernon plant

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People living near a controversial lead battery recycling plant in Vernon demanded answers from regulators and lawmakers about the facility's future during a tense four hour meeting Tuesday. 

The government shutdown kept the Environmental Protection Agency away from the meeting. But the head of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Debbie Raphael, showed up to face an angry crowd of nearly two hundred in the auditorium of Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights. 

On Monday Raphael's agency announced it planned to drop efforts to close the plant operated by Exide Technologies. In exchange, Exide agreed to set aside nearly $8 million to clean up toxic pollution, limit future emissions, and provide blood screenings to concerned residents.

Raphael defended the agreement, stressing that Exide contributes jobs to the community. But she said that wasn't more important than operating safely.

"If Exide cannot find a way to do that — if they cannot find a way to operate without polluting communities, then we will revoke their permit. You heard it from me," Raphael said, to a smattering of applause.

TIMELINE: Exide's shutdown in Vernon

Her reassurances and those of local air quality officials weren't enough for many at the meeting who want the plant closed. Several people even shouted at regulators and jeered their responses. 

Assembly speaker John Perez got a better reaction when he joined the area's two state senators at the meeting. They've called for investigative audits of the toxic substances department, and they say they plan to support the community's efforts to close the plant however they can.

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