SACRAMENTO — The Senate Rules Committee on Monday refused to endorse confirmation of Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, the embattled head of Gov. George Deukmejian's toxics control program, but decided to give the full Senate a chance to vote on the matter.
A lengthy hearing into Kizer's qualifications to head the state Department of Health Services ended with an erosion of some of his support in the Senate.
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) was one of three Democrats who backed away from earlier Rules Committee votes of support for Kizer because of questions raised about his handling of the state's toxic waste cleanup program.
Kizer underwent unusually intense grilling as Democrats, raising an issue expected to be used against Deukmejian during his reelection campaign this year, tried to show that economic considerations were being balanced against public health needs in the Administration's decision making on control of toxics.
The committee, in its second vote this month on Kizer's appointment, voted 4-1 to send his confirmation back to the Senate with no recommendation. The same five-member committee had recommended unanimously on Feb. 5, after only a brief hearing, that Kizer be confirmed for the $73,780-a-year job.
Thus, Monday's vote represented a setback for Kizer, who had asked for the second hearing to clear up questions raised about his role in seeking a special exemption from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a 45-acre portion of a 190-acre hazardous waste site in Monterey Park. Owners of the site contributed $19,250 to Deukmejian's first campaign for governor in 1982.
A Health Concern
In the hearing, Kizer stuck to his position that he had no knowledge of the campaign contributions received by Deukmejian from Operating Industries Inc., owners of the Monterey Park landfill where potentially explosive levels of methane gas and cancer-causing chemicals have been found. He said he sought the exemption solely because he felt it was in the best interests of public health.
Kizer, 34, a UCLA-trained medical doctor who holds a master's degree in public health, faces a deadline of March 11 for winning Senate confirmation of the job Deukmejian appointed him to last March. If the Senate refuses, Kizer will have to step down.
The controversy about the Monterey Park landfill developed just days after Kizer's confirmation initially was approved by the Rules Committee.
Kizer was not questioned about the Monterey Park landfill or the governor's toxics program during the first hearing. But Democrats turned the second hearing into a forum to take swipes at both Kizer and Deukmejian.
Blame on Governor
Kizer was accused of failing to aggressively enforce environmental laws. But Roberti blamed the Republican governor, saying Kizer merely was carrying out Deukmejian's policy.
"Most of the issues relating to Dr. Kizer do not go to Dr. Kizer specifically but go to the philosophy of this Administration," the Democratic Senate leader said.
The lone "no" vote was cast by Republican Sen. William A. Craven of Oceanside, who left the hearing room, angry that the committee did not send Kizer's name to the Senate floor with a recommendation that he be confirmed.
"I thought it was a travesty," he said of the free-wheeling Rules Committee hearing, during which Democrats hammered at Kizer over the Monterey Park landfill and other issues.
The other Republican on the committee, Sen. John Doolittle of Citrus Heights, voted along with Roberti and Democratic Sens. Nicholas C. Petris of Oakland and Henry J. Mello of Watsonville to send the nomination to the floor without a recommendation.
Kizer himself left the Capitol hearing room quickly, refusing to answer questions as burly aides pushed aside reporters.
"I have no comment," he said.
When asked what he thought of the questioning, he said tersely, "Not much."
William Ihle, the chief spokesman for the Department of Health Services, said later, "We asked to come back and go before the committee to explain and we think we have."
In the hearing, Kizer said removing the Monterey Park property from the federal Superfund list would in fact hasten the cleanup of the hazardous waste site because terms of a Superior Court settlement call for owners of the property to use $7.2 million from the sale of the 45-acre parcel to help pay for cleaning the remaining 145 acres.
Findings of Experts
Kizer said he and other experts considered the southern 145 acres to be much more of a threat to the public health.
That did not seem to satisfy Democrats, who released a letter Monday from the EPA saying both north and south parcels were part of the same hazardous waste site and that "there is not enough data available to conclude that the north parcel does not present an environmental or public health risk."
Kizer also was questioned about his decision to overrule a staff report that recommended that the toxic chemical aldicarb be taken off the commercial market pending a formal reevaluation of whether its use will be allowed to be continued.
The health services director asked for the reevaluation, but rejected the staff report, saying not enough was known about pesticides that might be used to replace aldicarb if it is taken off the market.