An employee wearing a breathing mask works at Exide Technologies, a battery recycling plant has discharged harmful amounts of lead into surrounding communities.
Vernon-based Exide, the battery recycler whose emissions have stirred public concerns about health impacts, has filed a lawsuit in LA Superior Court to have a recently-passed air quality rule scrubbed.
At issue is rule 1420.1, passed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in January, which tightens limits for arsenic and other toxic chemicals in emissions.
Exide has asked a superior court judge to block enforcement of the rule. The company argues that, under the California Environmental Quality Act, air regulators were "arbitrary and capricious" in making a rule Exide's lawyers call "infeasible."
In a separate legal maneuver, the company has petitioned regulators directly, asking for more flexibility in implementing the rule.
In a written statement, the company’s Senior Director for Commercial Operations in the Recycling Group, E.N. “Bud” DeSart, emphasized that Exide remains committed to meeting emission limits, and does not dispute the need for them.
The problem, he says, is the condition within the rule that requires the plant to operate its furnaces with negative pressure by April 10. Such conditions are used also in hospitals to control airborne illnesses.
DeSart characterized the condition as one unrelated to emissions. “The company is committed to meeting all air emissions limits and protecting public health,” he said, “but believes this operational requirement is not necessary and its implementation schedule is not feasible.”
After the hearing in January, plant manager John Hogarth told KPCC that it would be difficult for Exide to comply with the rule without exacerbating other pollution.
But AQMD officials say they’re confident that Exide could comply with the conditions in time.
According to a staff report from AQMD, Exide can meet the requirements with the installation of new equipment to control emissions, at a cost of $2 million annually.
“We are disappointed that Exide has chosen to continue to fight against reasonable pollution controls,” said Barry Wallerstein, in a written release. “In addition, they continue to be a serial violator of air pollution regulations.”
A separate case that the AQMD has filed against Exide continues in Superior Court. Regulators sued the company for $40 million in penalties related to illegal lead and arsenic emissions.
Sacramento lawmakers including State Senator Kevin de Leon have introduced a bill aimed at shutting Exide down.
De Leon says the new challenges underline the urgency of the cause. “Exide’s attempt to avoid public health and environmental laws is another example why they can’t be trusted to operate in good faith,” he said.