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Committee Approves Senator Padilla’s Tijuana River Pollution Bills

-Editorial

The California State Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials approved Senate Bills 1178 and 1208, authored by Senator Steve Padilla (D-San Diego). These bills aim to tackle corporate pollution in California waters and halt the development of a landfill that would exacerbate pollution in the Tijuana River Watershed.

“The Tijuana River is one of the most overburdened watersheds in the state, if not the country,” said Senator Padilla. “We are fed up with corporations poisoning Californians to make a quick buck. By making these polluters clearly label their products to show the public they have contributed to this crisis, perhaps we can encourage them to contribute to the solution. This pollution impacts tens of thousands of San Diegans every day, and we must do everything in our power to bring justice to this community.”

For generations, billions of gallons of contamination, pollution, and wastewater from failing infrastructure have ravaged California’s southern coastline. San Diegans are suffering from the health, economic, and environmental impacts of these continued transboundary flows.

Recently, the Tijuana River Watershed was named one of the 10 most endangered rivers in America by the environmental organization American Rivers. This designation follows an analysis of hazardous industrial waste and raw sewage contaminating the river.

According to a study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, coastal water pollution transfers to the atmosphere in sea spray aerosol, potentially affecting people beyond beachgoers, surfers, and swimmers, thus increasing the risk of exposure and illness in a larger area of coastal communities.

While sewage treatment facilities exist on the river, the volume of wastewater flowing into the river has far exceeded their capacity, overwhelming efforts to address the issue. In December, Senator Padilla, chair of the Senate Select Committee on California-Mexico Cooperation and Dialogue, held a hearing to gather insights from federal officials, experts, local representatives, and the public on efforts to address cross-border pollution. However, this is not the only pollution issue facing the South Bay.

Over 15 years ago, private developers secured approval for a second landfill in San Diego County’s general plan through a misleading ballot measure, bypassing local elected officials and creating a truncated CEQA process that silenced local input. The landfill would be built less than 2 miles from the Tijuana River, within its already severely distressed watershed.

Following testimony from the hearing and consultation with local leaders, Senator Padilla introduced three pieces of legislation to mitigate the pollution.

Senator Padilla’s Tijuana River Pollution Legislative Package includes Senate Bill 1178, the California Water Quality and Public Health Protection Act, which requires transnational corporations to report their discharges that pollute California waters and label their products with a warning about their contribution to the crisis; Senate Bill 1208, which prevents the development of a landfill within the Tijuana River watershed that will contribute to pollution; and Senate Joint Resolution 18, which requests the Centers for Disease Control to investigate the impacts of cross-border pollution on the public health of South Bay residents.

SB 1178 builds on environmental protections signed into law by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, requiring companies discharging waste outside California in a manner that could affect state waters to report those discharges. The bill mandates large corporations with 2,500 or more employees doing business in California to publicly disclose their wastewater discharges that can contaminate California watersheds and label their products accordingly. Non-compliance will result in a fee, with funds dedicated to mitigating the impact of those toxic discharges.

SB 1208 prohibits a regional water board from issuing a waste discharge permit for a new landfill used for the disposal of nonhazardous solid waste if the land is within the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve or its tributary areas.

SB 1178 passed by a vote of 5 to 2 and now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. SB 1208 passed by a vote of 5 to 0 and will be heard in the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources on Monday, July 1st. Senate Joint Resolution 18 will be heard tomorrow in the Senate Health Committee.

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