Top Officials at State Toxic Control Agency Accused of Owning Stock in Companies They Regulate

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit organization that advocates on a range of issues— including political reform, insurance, health care, and energy—alleged conflicts of interest among senior officials at the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) last week and said they should be fired.

Liza Tucker, author of a highly-critical Consumer Watchdog report about the agency, said the governor should fire longtime Chief Deputy Director Odette Madriago and Deputy Director Stewart Black in a letter for owning stock in companies they oversee.

The letter and report, “Golden Wasteland,” were released about the same time that NBC Bay Area reported that Madriago held stock for three years worth between $100,000 and $1 million in General Electric, a company that holds permits from DTSC to handled hazardous waste. NBC said documents submitted to the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) also indicate that Madriago held up to $100,000 in shares of Chevron from 2005-2007. Chevron also holds permits from DTSC and is regularly involved in high-profile toxic pollution incidents. Madriago also reportedly held shares in two other DTSC-permitted companies, Abbott Laboratories and BP Amoco.

NBC’s review of  FPPC documents also showed that Black held stock in Royal Dutch Shell, Intel and Procter & Gamble, three companies regulated by DTSC.

Consumer Watchdog has regularly criticized the agency, which oversees 117 facilities that manage hazardous waste and 900 businesses that transport it. DTSC, a department in the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) since 1991, oversees around 1,000 site investigations and cleanups, and monitors about 200 sites where cleanup is complete.

Tucker alleged in her report that the agency is failing. “California has some of the toughest environmental protection laws in the nation, but also some of the weakest enforcement. Among the divisions that enforce those laws, the DTSC does the poorest job.”

Although the agency is the only one within Cal/EPA with its own criminal investigators, the number of cases referred to the state attorney general or district attorneys dropped from 55 in 2007 to 1 in the last fiscal year, according to Tucker. She criticized the agency for relying on “wrist-slap fines” and out-of-court settlements to deal with “serial violators” as part of a general “bias toward industry encouraged by a revolving door between regulators, lobbyists, and lawyers.”

Tucker also accused the agency of either not knowing about, or simply not exercising, authority granted to it. For instance, her report said DTSC officials denied they had authority to investigate the fire last summer at a Chevron refinery in Richmond that emitted a toxic cloud of chemicals, sending thousands of people to emergency wards, before belatedly admitting they did.

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett and two other senators, Ricardo Lara and Kevin de Leon, met with DTSC Director Debbie Raphael last week and they requested that the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes look into allegations raised by the media reports.

–Ken Broder     


To Learn More:

Senators Say State DTSC Will Cooperate with Probe (by Josh Richman, Bay Area News Group)

DTSC Leaders Have Owned Stock in Companies They Oversee (by Vicky Nguyen, Liz Wagner and Felipe Escamilla, NBC News)

Consumer Watchdog Calls for Governor Brown to Fire Two DTSC Officials for Conflicts of Interest (Consumer Watchdog)

Toxic Department (by Michael Collins, EnviroReporter)

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