Within a month of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s adoption of a rule setting tougher toxic emission limits on lead-acid battery recycling facilities, Vernon-based Exide Technologies is fighting back with a lawsuit challenging the state agency’s operational standards and its deadline to comply.
In a lawsuit filed Feb. 7 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Exide asks the court to overturn AQMD’s Amended Rule 1420.1, which requires Exide and Quemetco Inc. in the City of Industry to meet strict emission levels for arsenic, benzene and 1,3 butandien and to operate consistently under “negative pressure.”
In the lawsuit, Exide makes it clear that the plant is not challenging “the district’s authority to establish emission limits or the emission limits” themselves, but rather its requirements for achieving those standards through negative pressure.
At the same time, in a separate action, Exide is seeking a variance to the April 11 deadline on the grounds that it needs more time to make modifications to their air pollution control system to meet the emission standards.
“Exide is committed to complying with all air quality standards and is only seeking an extension of time to install the equipment necessary to meet the district’s new regulation,” said Exide’s Senior Director of Commercial Operations E.N. “Bud” DeSart in a statement. “The company expects to adhere to all emissions limits during this limited extension.”
SCAQMD’s Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein said the state agency is disappointed that Exide “chose to fight against reasonable pollution controls.”
“Their complaint challenges what we think is an important aspect of the regulation which is a requirement to achieve negative pressure for their blast furnace,” AQMD General Counsel Kurt Weise told EGP.
According to Exide, the installation of the additional equipment would “reasonably take several months” for design, engineering, permitting, installing and testing of the new system.
Exide’s proposal to install a second scrubber, which according to the company would ultimately achieve the same results, would take nine to 11 months to complete and cost up to $2.8 million.
Weise, however, told EGP that when the rule change was being considered it was understood that both Exide and Quemetco, the only two battery recycler plants West of the Rockies, would be able to achieve the negative pressure requirement in the rule change.
“Nobody got up at the hearing and said we can’t achieve negative pressure,” Weiss told EGP.
A summary of Exide’s lawsuit details their objections, including an argument that the changes would impair the production of lead and may result in increased Nitrogen oxide emissions.
Exide’s lawsuit calls the operational requirement “arbitrary” and contends it is “not based in reason, logic or science.”
“Exide’s challenge is primarily directed at one provision of the district’s recently amended regulation, which is unrelated to emission limits,” said DeSart.
The battery recycler’s lawsuit also challenges the California Environmental Quality Act and asks the court to set aside the Rule and any related approvals pending until further environmental studies are performed.
“Exide’s attempt to avoid public health and environmental laws is another example why they can’t be trusted to operated in good faith,” said Sen. Kevin de Leon in statement responding to the lawsuit.
According to Weise, negative pressure is an engineer’s way of saying that the emissions have to have enough pressure to be sucked into the pollution control system.
A health risk assessment conducted in early 2013 found that Exide’s Vernon plant had very high levels of arsenic emissions, exposing over 110,000 residents to an “unacceptable cancer risk.”
“We found that negative pressure there is a high risk that those high levels of arsenic emissions will continue,” Weise said,
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a $40 million lawsuit and two state bills aimed at shutting down the Vernon-based company. The lawsuit filed by AQMD accuses Exide of air quality standards violations involving illegal emissions of lead and arsenic.
AQMD’s independent hearing board will also soon make a decision on whether they should shut down Exide’s smelting operations until its air pollution control system is improved.
In the past, Exide has accused AQMD of giving in to public and political pressures to shut down the plant despite the battery recycler meeting requirements. Exide Plant Manager John Hogarth previously told EGP that the plant has been meeting all requirements and is confident they will be able to meet any new reduced emission limits.
Wiese told EGP the accusation was simply “not true.”
“Exide is not being singled out,” said Weiss, noting that the rules also apply to Quemetco. “The requirements apply to both facilities equally,” he emphasized.
Quemetco has not contested the rule and it is not clear whether it intends to do so.