Field-lab cleanup bill goes to Arnold

first_imgAfter years of struggle, efforts to require stricter standards for cleaning up the Santa Susana Field Lab site gained momentum Wednesday as state lawmakers sent new legislation to the governor’s desk. The bill by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Los Angeles, would prevent the Boeing Co. site in the hills above Chatsworth and Simi Valley from being transferred or sold unless it is cleaned up to federal Superfund standards. Kuehl and co-author Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, believe the federal Department of Energy is currently using lower standards for cleanup that could leave some contamination in the area and endanger local residents. “If they don’t clean it up, it can’t be sold and developed,” Brownley said. “That becomes critically important, because in my opinion it is going to protect lives.” Although several previous legislative efforts by Kuehl to increase cleanup at the site have failed in the face of heavy lobbying by Boeing, she said she is hopeful now of winning Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s support because at least six Republicans voted for it in the Assembly. The support by Republican Assembly members Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, and Audra Strickland, R-Westlake Village, was seen as particularly important because their districts border the site. Strickland is on maternity leave, but a letter of support from her was read on the Assembly floor Wednesday. “I hope that this has a positive impact on the governor’s willingness to understand how important this high level of cleanup is,” Kuehl said. The bill passed 49-20 through the Assembly. That was a significant improvement from the Senate vote in May, when it passed with a bare majority, 21-16, with no Republican support. Schwarzenegger’s spokesman said Wednesday after the vote that he still has not taken a position on the measure. Boeing spokesman Dan Beck said the company would comment on the legislation after the governor makes his decision, but he added that Boeing is committed to cleaning up the site. “We’ve been doing everything we can in terms of a thorough and timely cleanup of the facility,” he said. Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, said she voted against the bill, in part because the business community – including her local chamber of commerce and the California Chamber – opposed it. She said it didn’t seem fair to write a bill that applies to only one company and one facility, and that seems to change the rules in the middle of the game. “I think we’re seeing a dangerous precedent,” Runner said. “They have abided by the rules that were in place, and now we’re going to say we’re changing the rules and we want you to do this and this. “To me, it’s something that just targets this one company, Boeing, to do things over and above what they were required to do before they are able to get rid of this property.” The vote was cheered by local environmental activists, who have been frustrated in their dealings with Boeing and the federal government in efforts to push for tough standards to remove the contaminants at the site. “Boeing is in a considerably weaker position now,” said activist Dan Hirsch of the Committee to Bridge the Gap. “There has been a shift in the balance of power.” This year, a U.S. District Court threw out the Department of Energy’s planned cleanup of radioactive contaminants at the site and ruled that the agency had conducted a flawed study. Previously the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned that the DOE’s cleanup would leave the land unsafe for anything more than limited day hikes. “It’s huge. This is the one guarantee that we can have that a full (Environmental Protection Agency) cleanup will finally be effected at the site,” said Elizabeth Crawford, founder of RocketdyneWatch. “For me, it seems to represent a new era of seriousness by the state of California to benefit the people of California.” Located in the hills above Simi Valley and Chatsworth, the Santa Susana Field Lab was developed in the late 1940s for rocket-engine tests and nuclear-energy research. While the DOE cleanup of its 90-acre portion of the lab is nearly complete, Boeing is at least a decade away from decontamination of the rest of the 290-acre site, which is tainted with chemicals from rocket engine and laser development. The land is considered prime real estate that could eventually be used for homes. [email protected] (916) 446-6723160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more