STATEMENT OF SENATOR DIRK KEMPTHORNE
Hearing on Superfund Reauthorization
Environment and Public Works Committee
September 4, 1997

Mr. Chairman, I want to commend you and our colleague from New Hampshire, Senator Smith, for your leadership on this important issue. For years, we've been dealing with a Superfund law that is fundamentally broken and fundamentally unfair. Your bill takes an important step in addressing many of the problems that have plagued the Superfund program.

As Chairman of the SASC Personnel Subcommittee, unfortunately will have to leave shortly to chair the Conference on the DOD Appropriations bill. I hope to be back later this afternoon to hear the testimony of the last panel on natural resource damages, which is an issue of critical importance to my home State of Idaho.

I am pleased that the bill generally recognizes the need to reform and improve the NRD program, but we need to get to the heart of the fundamental problems with the program. In my opinion, the problem with the current program is that it isn't being used to restore resources, as it was intended to do, but instead it has become more like a second cleanup program and a second litigation opportunity -- and one that can be very expensive and very time consuming.

The State of Idaho now has the largest natural resource damages lawsuit in the country. Together, the Federal government and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe are asking for over $2 billion. Only half of that is to actually restore natural resources; the rest is for so-called compensation for "non- use" and "lost use" damages. These "compensatory" damages have nothing to do with the actual restoration of the Coeur d'Alene Basin. Instead, they're used to inflate lawsuit claims and ultimately drive up the cost of settling a lawsuit.

Litigation on natural resource damages is just beginning, but if we don't do something now, we run the risk of merely shifting the costly litigation and delay from the cleanup program to the natural resource damages program. That is a risk that we simply cannot afford to take if we want to restore damaged natural resources in a timely manner.

For that reason, I strongly support meaningful reform to the natural resource damages program and I will work with the Chairman and the Committee to include that reform in this bill.