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Deukmejian Defends Contributions From Toxic Waste Industry

February 11, 1986|DOUGLAS SHUIT and MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian, under attack for accepting campaign contributions from the toxic waste industry, said Monday he believes it is acceptable to receive political money from toxic waste firms regulated by the state "as long as people have not been convicted of committing any crime."

"I can hardly think of many people in political life who run for office who don't receive some campaign contributions from industries or companies that are either regulated by state government or who have issues that are under consideration from time to time," the Republican governor told reporters in an impromptu news conference.

Deukmejian's comments came in defense of $19,250 in contributions he received for his 1982 gubernatorial campaign from Operating Industries Inc., owners of a Monterey Park hazardous waste site. Now, the Administration, with the governor's support, is seeking a special exemption that would free a 45-acre section of the Operating Industries landfill from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency controls.

Also pushing for the exemption is the City of Monterey Park, which says that once the waiver is approved, the 45-acre property would be sold for $7.2 million and the proceeds used for cleaning up another 145 acres at the dump site.

In other developments Monday, Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said the Administration's role in seeking the exemption has clouded Senate proceedings on confirmation of Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, Deukmejian's director of the Department of Health Services and the head of the Administration's toxics program.

Kizer is spearheading Administration efforts to win the federal exemption for the Operating Industries tract and made a special trip to Washington last month to personally plead the Administration's case with top EPA officials.

Last week, Kizer's confirmation was approved routinely and unanimously by the five-member Senate Rules Committee, usually a sure sign that approval by the full Senate will follow. But Monday, after Roberti indicated that the Rules Committee might call the embattled health director back for questioning, Kizer himself asked for another Rules Committee hearing, declaring that "when a review of the facts is completed, it will clearly show that no one acted improperly."

Roberti told reporters that Kizer's confirmation now "could be a problem for Deukmejian." He said the Rules Committee would reconsider the matter on Feb. 19.

The Senate leader said one of the questions raised by the Monterey Park landfill issue was whether Kizer had lobbied for a "reduced standard" of public health in connection with the Monterey Park landfill.

Meanwhile, on another toxics front, the top aide to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley called into question $10,000 in contributions that Deukmejian received from Western Waste Industries, a Los Angeles County waste hauler, just before the state Department of Health Services cleared the way for the company to build an office building on a Los Angeles hazardous waste site near Torrance.

Aide Tom Houston questioned "the wisdom just on appearances alone" of accepting the contributions. The donations were made in March, 1984 and June, 1985.

The Western Waste project was blocked by city officials in Los Angeles, who held up a building permit. Houston said the city wants to make sure the site is safe.

Meanwhile, the state Health Services Department, which originally had approved the firm's plans to fill in the hazardous waste disposal site, ordered work halted after questioning whether dirt being used to fill in the dump site was polluted.

In response to Houston's suggestion that the state's initial approval for filling of the site was somehow linked to campaign contributions, Deukmejian Chief of Staff Steven A. Merksamer said, "The charge appears to be one more example of mudslinging and irresponsible accusations by the Bradley campaign that they're not capable of backing up."

Bradley, a Democrat, is expected to face Deukmejian in the November general election.

Deukmejian, in responding to reporters' questions about the Monterey Park toxic waste dump after a speech to the California Community College Trustees Assn., tried to shrug off the criticism, calling it election-year rhetoric.

Soil Samples Studied

Meanwhile, John Wise, the EPA deputy regional administrator in San Francisco, said that several initial studies of soil samples at the 45-acre parcel have revealed toxic organic chemicals, including benzene and toluene. But it is not known whether the entire 45 acres is contaminated or whether the chemicals are concentrated in small areas, he said.

The studies were conducted both by the EPA and private consultants for prospective purchasers, he said.

"Until we know (the extent of contamination), there is good cause to be very careful," he said. "I firmly believe Dr. Kizer did not know (about the chemicals in the soil) when he went to Washington to testify that the site should be removed from the list."

Wise said that while it is not unusual to find organic chemicals at old dump sites, no construction at the parcel should be approved until the EPA completes an extensive soil and ground water study that is currently under way.

Over the weekend, Senate leader Roberti, in a speech to a Democratic state convention in Los Angeles, said that Deukmejian had received nearly $390,000 in contributions from toxic waste, oil and chemical company contributors. Roberti, referring to the donations as "juice," called Deukmejian the "No. 1 juicer in the state of California."

But Deukmejian said he considered such contributions appropriate "as long as people have not done anything improper, as long as people have not been convicted of committing any crimes."

Times staff writer Jill Stewart also contributed to this story.

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