FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, February 07, 2022
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028 firstname.lastname@example.org
Boeing Money Preceded Waiver of Pollution Penalties
Water Board Chair Reaped Boeing Cash Before Woolsey Fire Fines Forgiven
Oakland, CA — A key state official may have acted illegally in forgiving pollution fines caused by toxic and radioactive contaminants released in runoff following the devastating Woolsey Fire, according to a criminal complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with the California Attorney General. Further, by accepting payments from a water pollution permit holder, the official may be legally barred from even sitting on the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB).
Irma R. Munoz has served as a member of this Board since 2011. She is also president and principal salaried employee of a small non-profit named Mujeres de la Tierra. From 2016 through 2018, that non-profit received at least $71,500 from the Boeing Corporation, which holds an LARWQCB permit for its highly-contaminated former nuclear and rocket testing property at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Ventura County, 30 miles from downtown LA.
As Board Chair in 2019, Munoz was involved in waiving $128,500 in assessed fines to Boeing for numerous water pollution violations following the mammoth Woolsey Fire the previous year. This action took place without a public hearing or even notification of most Board members.
“Boeing gave Ms. Munoz’s organization more than $70,000 and then had nearly $130,000 in fines for pollution violations forgiven,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to state conflict of interest disclosure and recusal requirements. “We have filed a criminal complaint with the Attorney General asking for an investigation of whether laws were broken.”
State law also forbids anyone from serving on a regional water board if a significant portion (defined as more than 10%) of his or her income came directly or indirectly from the holder of a water discharge permit, such as Boeing, during the previous two years. Thus, Munoz’s presence on the Board going back at least as far back as 2016 may be illegal, as would her 2019 reappointment by Governor Newsom and her current Board membership. This throws a legal cloud over all Board decisions in which she participated while legally barred from serving.
In addition, on February 10th, this same Board, on which Ms. Munoz still sits, is hearing an application to renew Boeing’s permit under dramatically relaxed terms that would eliminate or significantly water down discharge limits for many of the toxic substances still polluting and migrating from the Santa Susana site.
The continuing pollution problems at Santa Susana stem from a failure by Boeing and other responsible parties to comply with, and the state to take action to enforce, a 2007 consent agreement that required completion of cleanup by 2017. However, the required soil cleanup has yet to begin, as Newsom’s toxics agency and the Water Board opened confidential negotiations with Boeing to substantially weaken soil and groundwater cleanup standards for this long-polluted site.
“Unfortunately, in California corporate money still appears to buy immunity from pollution prosecution,” added Ruch. “This episode is just another example of how toxic enforcement in the Golden State has become a joke.”