SACRAMENTO — Assemblyman Curtis Tucker Jr. said last week that he appreciates "what Custer felt like . . . at the Little Big Horn," after heavy opposition led an Assembly committee to shelve his bill to phase out the use of hazardous hydrogen fluoride throughout California.
The Inglewood Democrat acknowledged that he was disappointed by the setback, saying he does not think his colleagues "have the will yet to ensure the public safety over the profits of a few companies."
The bill, heard Tuesday by the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxics Committee, would have forced oil refineries and other businesses to switch to safer substitutes, relocate to unpopulated areas or shut down operations.
It was aimed at four refineries that use the chemical in the manufacture of unleaded gasoline: Mobil's Torrance facility, Ultramar's Wilmington plant, and the Powerine and Golden West refineries in Santa Fe Springs. It was also targeted at Allied-Signal Inc.'s plant in El Segundo, which uses hydrogen fluoride to make refrigerants.
Tucker said he expects to introduce a scaled-down proposal next year. Among other things, he suggested, the proposal might limit the amount of hydrogen fluoride that could be stored at an industrial plant or require back-up storage capacity in case an accident threatened to release the acid into the air.
Tucker said he was prepared last week to add these provisions to the bill but failed to get a chance when Democrats on the committee persuaded him to send the bill to interim study, a move designed to prevent the bill from being heard again this year.
Critics of the proposal said Tucker was well-intentioned but misguided in pushing for such a sweeping proposal that singled out one chemical for a phase-out.
Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park), chair of the committee, said she would like her committee to examine the safety of hydrogen fluoride, the amount used in the state and ways to prevent a disaster. However, she said, "to ban (hydrogen fluoride) without further study is something we couldn't very well do."
James Garibaldi, Allied-Signal's lobbyist, said Tucker's bill failed to get out of committee because it was poorly drafted and too sweeping. Officials of the Allied-Signal refrigerant plant said that in their business there are no substitutes for hydrogen fluoride. Enactment of the Tucker bill "would have shut us down and moved us out of the state of California," plant Manager Louis H. Ervin said.
One business lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, suggested that the Democrat-dominated committee also may have sought to shelve the bill because of opposition from the United Steelworkers of America, which represents 47 workers at the Allied-Signal plant.
Jimmie Dixson, a staff representative for the steelworkers, acknowledged that union officials talked to Tanner and other committee members. Dixson expressed concern about the potential loss of jobs at Allied-Signal if the bill became law and the plant was forced to relocate or shut down. Dixson noted that labor played a significant role in Tucker's election last year, "and we're just a bit perplexed" by his bill.