Statement of Senator Wayne Allard
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing and for offering me the opportunity to testify on behalf of S. 606. As you know, this legislation would reauthorize the Office of the Ombudsman of the Environmental Protection Agency.
I'd like to keep my remarks brief, but I want to share with the Committee my reasoning on, and interest in, this issue. I introduced this legislation in the 105th Congress because of an ongoing battle between the citizens of a Denver neighborhood and the EPA concerning the Shattuck Superfund site. The Ombudsman's office was instrumental in bringing the truth of what was happening in this case to light. The legislation was reintroduced, by Senator Crapo, at the beginning of the current Congress because the issue of the Office of the EPA Ombudsman is still an important one.
I would like to share with you, quickly, the story surrounding the Shattuck site in the Overland Park neighborhood in southwest Denver and what the EPA did there. These events have had a lasting impact, not only on the residents of the Overland Park neighborhood, but on each of us who looks to the EPA to be the guardian of our nation's environmental health and safety. In 1997, after several years of EPA stonewalling, the residents of Overland Park in Denver brought their concerns about a Superfund site in their neighborhood and their frustrations with the EPA to my attention. I learned that the neighborhood had run into a wall of bureaucracy that was unresponsive to the very public it is charged with protecting and I requested the Ombudsman's intervention. In early 1999, the Ombudsman's office began an investigation and quickly determined that the claims made by residents were not only meritorious, but that EPA officials had engaged in an effort to keep documents hidden from the public, thereby placing their health in danger.
Without the Ombudsman's investigation on Shattuck, the residents of Overland Park would have never learned the truth. The Ombudsman's investigation brought integrity back into the process. Without the Ombudsman's work, a trusted federal agency would have been able to successfully hide the truth from the very people it is charged to protect. The Shattuck issue is a decade long example of why citizens' trust in their government has waned. This bill will preserve an important mechanism within the EPA that the public can trust to protect their health and safety.
The Shattuck story was a frustrating and often disheartening experience for all involved. It is an example of what can happen when a government entity goes unchecked. For the residents of Denver, the Office of Ombudsman offered the opportunity to get to the truth and made the health and safety of the public top priority.
Let me make it clear that the main priority in my continued support of this bill, is to keep the Office of the EPA Ombudsman open for business and capable of conducting it. In the future, thers may find themselves in a situation similar to the one that residents of Denver experienced. I want to know that they will have every assurance that the public's safety will be protected, that its voice will be heard, that its questions will be answered and that its concerns addressed.
This office should not have its investigative ability restricted, and its independence should not be compromised. The EPA's actions and decisions in future cases like Shattuck, should not go unchecked and citizens in other states should have a public avenue to address concerns and get answers from the EPA. I know that I am not alone in my concerns and, unfortunately, that the Shattuck case is not unique. Many of my fellow Senators and Representatives have experienced similar concerns over sites in their states. That is why this legislation remains so important.
I appreciate the efforts that have been made by the current administration in an attempt to solve some of the problems that the Office of the Ombudsman has experienced. I know that Administrator Whitman shares my desire to see this issue to a conclusion that will be beneficial to all and I appreciate her willingness to work with my office. Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing and your willingness to look further into this matter.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.