Newsom Backs Off Santa Susana Clean-Up Guarantee 

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Thursday, February 11, 2021
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028

Newsom Backs Off Santa Susana Clean-Up Guarantee

Permanent Pollution OK Is Focus of Closed-Door Negotiation with Boeing


Oakland —After months of tough talk, the Newsom administration has quietly entered into confidential negotiations to allow Boeing Company to eviscerate an agreement requiring a full clean-up of the highly polluted Santa Susana Field Laboratory,  according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The negotiations with Boeing, one of the responsible parties, is the second attempt by Newsom operatives in recent months to let responsible parties off the hook from Santa Susana clean-up obligations.

Located 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory is one of the most contaminated sites in the nation; a former nuclear reactor and rocket testing facility, home to a partial nuclear meltdown and numerous other radioactive accidents and toxic chemical releases.  Since 2007, it has been under a legally binding cleanup agreement requiring restoration of the site by 2017, yet groundwater and soil clean-up has yet to begin.

A January 22, 2021 letter from California Department of Toxic Substances Control Deputy Director Grant Cope to Boeing offers to enter into “confidential mediation” to “resolve” the dispute “regarding Boeing’s groundwater corrective measures study and risk assessments.”  Boeing has eagerly accepted this new state offer to weaken the binding clean-up agreement.  Notably –

  • Boeing’s principal demand is to leave heavily contaminated groundwater with virtually no remediation and the soil too toxic to allow future “residential or agricultural uses.”  Accepting Boeing’s position would leave the great majority of contamination on site;
  • The move belies a recent enforcement pledge by Cal/EPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld  that “we’re very serious about implementing the legally binding agreements…[to] hold the polluters accountable for their legacy…We will make sure the site gets cleaned up and we will exercise our legal authority in pursuit of that. That hasn’t been the message that they’ve heard for the previous 10 years, but we’re changing it”; and
  • The outcome of the “confidential mediation” will not be known by the public until the deal is finalized, leaving affected communities with little recourse to object.  Nor are the communities most affected, such as Ventura County, included in the negotiation.

“The Newsom administration is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by weaseling out of a binding agreement it vowed to enforce,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch.  “It appears a decision has already been reached to leave Santa Susana profoundly polluted in perpetuity.”

This is the second scheme the Newson administration has backed in recent months to evade Santa Susana clean-up responsibilities. This fall, it supported a bizarre NASA plan to have the entire site declared a cultural district for Native American artifacts and placed on the National Register of Historic Places, with an intent to then declare the whole site exempt from the clean-up agreement.  Fortunately, the National Park Service balked at that maneuver.  However, the Newsom administration is considering trying again by resubmitting a revised application.

“It says something when the plan Newsom embraced could not pass the laugh test even in the Trump administration,” added Ruch. “The real mystery is why – with a binding decade-old agreement in hand – the Newsom administration is not insisting that Santa Susana be completely cleaned up, as required by binding agreements and its own public promises.”


Read the DTSC letter to Boeing 

View DTSC’s prior position on clean-up 

Compare Boeing’s position 

See Cal/EPA’s tough talk 

Look at NASA plan to place Santa Susana on National Register of Historic Places

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