A Vernon battery recycler shuttered by the state as a health risk in April will be allowed to reopen pending a court hearing next month, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge ruled Monday.
Judge Luis A. Lavin said the public interest would not suffer if the plant were to operate in the meantime.
The Department of Toxic Substances Control ordered Exide Technologies, one of the world’s largest makers and recyclers of lead acid batteries, to suspend operations April 24, saying the facility’s arsenic emissions posed “an unacceptable risk to public health.” The state also said the plant had been continuously leaking hazardous waste into the ground through bad pipes.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District said earlier this spring that arsenic was posing an increased cancer risk to as many as 110,000 people living from Boyle Heights to Maywood and Huntington Park.
But Exide contested the state’s order, contending that the plant had been operating in compliance with state rules, that DTSC had applied different standards to Exide than to other companies and that there was “no imminent and substantial danger to the public health, safety or the environment.”
The company contends that its arsenic emissions have been reduced by more than 70 percent since 2010.
The suspension order was the subject of a three-day hearing in early June before an administrative law judge, but the hearing ended before Exide finished its testimony. It might have been several more months before the hearings could be concluded, according to court filings.
Exide asked a the judge to intervene, arguing that the toxics department had relied on “incomplete and obsolete data” and an “illegal ‘underground regulation’ ” when it shut the plant down.
Exide’s court filing charged that the toxics department’s action was “arbitrary and capricious” and said the department had been under “enormous political pressure regarding oversight of facilities” because of criticism from watchdog groups and state legislators.
Meanwhile, the idling of the plant was hurting the company and its workers, according to court papers. Based in Georgia, the company filed for bankruptcy protection last week, citing the loss of the Vernon plant’s production and other economic factors in its Chapter 11 petition. It listed assets of $1.9 billion and debts of $1.1 billion.
Keeping the plant closed while the company waited for an administrative law judge to schedule additional hearing days would result in “continued unemployment for its workers and millions of dollars of economic damage to Exide,” the company’s lawyers argued.
Superior Court Judge agreed. “Exide’s administrative remedy is too slow to be effective and/or would result in irreparable harm,” read a hand-written note at the bottom of his order.