SACRAMENTO — Listing the cleanup of toxic wastes among his highest priorities, Gov. George Deukmejian on Friday proposed significantly increased spending and personnel for the regulation of hazardous chemicals.
However, in other areas affecting the environment, the new Deukmejian budget for the next fiscal year would generally hold the line--neither slashing nor adding substantial amounts of money for such agencies as the California Coastal Commission, which he has long said he wants to abolish.
Critics were quick to complain that even in toxics programs, the proposed increases were overdue and inadequate to deal with the hazardous waste problems facing California.
The toxics issue is a particularly sensitive one for Deukmejian, who will seek reelection this year. After being widely praised during his first two years in office for expanding toxics cleanup efforts, he and his Administration recently have come under attack.
Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report highly critical of state cleanup operations at three federal Superfund sites. This was followed by a disclosure that the FBI was investigating the state's cleanup program.
Even Deukmejian has expressed disappointment at the lack of progress by the Department of Health Services in cleaning up several of the state's most highly contaminated dump sites.
The Administration's proposed budget would add a significant number of new employees in several departments to enforce the state's toxics regulations. All in all, the plan would add 137 positions, including 65 to manage hazardous waste disposal facilities, 22 to enforce toxics laws and 27 to monitor, study, and control the use of pesticides.
Spending on toxics would total $137 million next year--an increase of 7.5% over the current year's $127.5 million. (Those numbers exclude most of the $100-million toxics cleanup bond money approved by voters in 1984, which is still unspent.)
While critics gave credit to Deukmejian for several of his proposals, they began to ask for even more funding for toxics cleanup.
Several complained of the failure of the Administration to earmark additional funds for dealing with thousands of leaking underground storage tanks and holding ponds identified by the state Water Resources Control Board.
Effect of Vetoes
"I can't imagine that he hasn't appropriated any money for the underground tank program or the surface impoundment program," said Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte), who chairs the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. She said she had hoped that Deukmejian would restore $7.9 million and 171 employee positions that he vetoed from the current budget.
"The governor has again failed to provide adequate funds and staff to protect Californians from hazardous wastes and to safeguard the environment from other pollution," said Corey Brown, general counsel for the Planning and Conservation League, an environmental group.
Brown said that the state Water Resources Control Board has identified 25,000 leaking underground tanks, each of which represents a potential threat to nearby communities and water supplies.
Brown also noted that the governor is proposing cutbacks in the Department of Health Services' unit responsible for developing alternatives to the land disposal of hazardous waste.
The budget does provide a total of $20 million for state and local governments to clean up their own leaking underground tanks.
And the governor is expected to propose increases for dealing with both leaking tanks and alternative disposal techniques later, according to Administration officials.
W. Brad Hays of the California Manufacturers Assn. praised Deukmejian for his strong emphasis on environmental issues.
"It's a very generous budget, one that reflects his sincere concern for environmental issues in general," Hays said.
Deukmejian proposed a $5.2-million boost for the state Air Resources Board--a 9.6% increase that includes funds for dealing with airborne toxic chemicals, indoor air pollution and additional smog control measures for motor vehicles.
Despite the governor's long-held view that the California Coastal Commission should be abolished, his election-year budget called for a total of 117 employees, an increase of two workers. In previous budgets, Deukmejian sharply reduced the commission's staff--provoking cries of outrage from environmentalists.