Kern County's attorneys are to be congratulated for their latest victory in their years-long defense of Measure E, the voter-approved ban on hauling Southern California sludge to Kern County and smearing it on local farmland.
On a technicality, the California Supreme Court dealt a serious blow last week to southland sewage agencies' eight-year legal campaign against the county's ban on the land application of treated sewage sludge. The seven justices unanimously overturned a state appeal court ruling that had granted a city of Los Angeles' request to block enforcement of Measure E.
The court held that Los Angeles, the lead agency on the lawsuit, failed to file claims against voter-approved Measure E within a 30-day period following the dismissal of a similar federal lawsuit.
Los Angeles and the other municipal and private sewage handlers who sued argued that Measure E was trumped by the California Integrated Waste Management Act and that Kern County hadn't properly considered regional welfare when it used its police powers to ban the land application of treated sludge -- also known as biosolids -- in unincorporated Kern. The court didn't hear the merit of those claims. Instead it ruled that Los Angeles had failed to file those claims soon enough after federal courts dismissed a lawsuit that contained the same claims.
This legal back-and-forth, which has prevented enforcement of the sludge hauling ban, likely draws confused indifference from most people in Kern County -- including from the many thousands who voted for Measure E because they were sick of being on the receiving end of Southern California's unwillingness to responsibly handle its owns waste.
Rather than develop disposal strategies closer to home, Southern California bureaucrats and politicians have taken the cheaper, more politically safe path of simply hauling many thousands of dump trucks of sludge over the Tehachapi Mountains and smearing it onto farm land.
Until the 1980s, Southern California sanitation districts pumped this waste -- a mixture of human and industrial waste left over from sewage processing -- into the ocean. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the practice because it was fouling the coastline and endangering the fish.
So, instead, the districts constructed treatment plants, which separated out usable water and left the mess we now call sludge. Despite the presence of industrial and human waste (think toilet flushing) in the sludge, Los Angeles and other districts pretend the sludge they are hauling north is really just harmless fertilizer that will enrich Kern County farmland.
Ask yourself: If this sludge is so harmless and beneficial, why isn't it being smeared on Southern California farmland, or even on barren land in eastern Los Angeles County?
The answer is simply: Southern California politicians don't want to anger their constituents. They can easily ignore the protests from those in Kern County who are tired of putting up with the stench and concerned about potential threats to area ground water.
In the world of waste management, whether it be toxic waste or garden-variety household waste, disposal follows the cheapest, least resistant path.
We saw this decades ago when California was dotted with numerous toxic waste disposal facilities, many of them leaking poisons into waterways and threatening communities. Most of these old dumps have closed, replaced by highly regulated regional facilities, including one in Kern County and one in Kings County.
As disposal costs skyrocketed, laws were passed requiring companies to reduce the volume of the toxic wastes they generated through recycling and other processes.
We are now at this same juncture with sludge. Los Angeles and other Southern California agencies would like to pretend they are recycling their waste by hauling it to Kern County. But no one around here is buying their act.
Rather than continue their ongoing fight over the Measure E ban, Southern California generators should concentrate on reducing the volume of their sludge and finding environmentally safe ways of disposing the waste closer to home. Their home.