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Dumping a Good Toxic-Waste Plan

February 11, 1986

Judging from his radio remarks Saturday, Gov. George Deukmejian wants Californians to believe that his plan to straighten out the toxic waste mess is the the only plan in Sacramento. As we heard it, he wanted to bring some coordination to the arms of government that protect the air and water from toxic hazards and the Democrats just wanted to play politics. If that were true, he would have had no plan to veto over the weekend. And what he vetoed was a toxic-waste bill that would have done everything he wanted and done it better.

Deukmejian said he would veto the bill, sponsored by Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), and he did. He said he would blame the Democrats, and he has. But he also said he wanted to make California a safer place to live by reorganizing the waste management functions of government so lines of authority--and responsibility--would be clearer. The Democrats wrote such a bill and they deserve credit, not blame.

The governor had many opportunities to write a good bill of his own. But his first plan, submitted last year, was sent back because it was full of confusing technical mistakes. The second plan was better and might have passed had not Assemblyman Louis J. Papan (D-Millbrae) blocked it because the governor had earlier vetoed an unrelated bill sponsored by Papan.

The Democrats never should have gone along with Papan, powerful as he is. But this year they tried to correct the record by passing a bill that would have consolidated authority over solid waste, hazardous waste, the state's Superfund program, and related programs under a Department of Waste Management in an upgraded Environmental Affairs Agency.

The Torres bill had some important advantages over the Deukmejian plan. First, it established a full-time commission to set policy for the new department and hold hearings on appeals of its decisions. Commission members would be technical experts, schooled in the complex chemical and legal problems posed by toxic dumps. The bill also required that no one serve on the commission who had earned very much income from the regulated industries, a provision designed to protect the regulators' independence.

Contrary to what the governor says, the Democrats repeatedly left the door open to compromise but the governor wouldn't budge. As a result, he got a bill less to his liking than he would have had he been willing to negotiate. Once the bill reached his desk, Deukmejian still had two choices. He chose to get even, not to get the job done.

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