Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, Risk and Waste Management
June 20, 2002
My name is John Konzen. I am from Troy, Montana and serve as County Commissioner for Lincoln County. You have already heard about Libby, a community I serve both as an elected County Commissioner and as a member of the Board of Directors for St. Johnís Lutheran Hospital in Libby.
Lincoln County is no stranger to the federal family. Floods and forest fires dispatch federal agencies to us regularly. Our county shares the Canadian border and a reservoir that straddles the international boundary, feeding the Columbia River Basin. There are endangered species and every other natural resource issue you can imagine. We struggle with double-digit poverty and unemployment rates. On an average day, itís fair to say we are a county with a lot on our plate.
Before I became a commissioner I served as a teacher and a school administrator for many years. I witnessed first hand the effects down cycles have on resource-based communities like the ones I serve today. I can tell you first hand how families are affected when mills close or mines shutdown.
Most of you would have probably never heard about Libby or Lincoln County if it werenít for tremolite asbestos and a mine operated by W.R. Grace.
There was a time when the W. R. Grace Mine was a good thing in our community. It meant jobs and good-paying ones. Men went to work every day to earn a living for their families. They didnít step away from their responsibility. And I bet a lot of them would have gone to work every day even if they had known of the risk they were taking on for themselves. Thatís what husbands and fathers do.
But none of those men would have ever put their families Ė their wives, children or grandchildren -- in harms way. Never. Not a single one of us in this room would have done that. But as you have already heard, Grace allowed all of that to occur.
There is an old saying that goes: ďMany hands make light work.Ē When Grace stepped away from their responsibility, they allowed the miners and the wives and children of those men, to do all the heavy lifting, and to take on the risks Grace was unwilling to shoulder.
And as Grace continues to step away from even the small portion of responsibility they willingly accepted to help our community cover prescription drug, home health care and other medical costs, they are breaking us. Our tiny communityís medical resources are already stretched too thin.
But it isnít just our community alone which concerns me and the other Montanans who have traveled here today to speak with you. As Grace increases the distance between the rightful portion of responsibility they must bear, they further harm the State of Montana.
As Senator Baucus is well aware, people are our most precious resource in Montana. As I travel across Montana for regular meetings with other county commissioners in our state, commissioners tell me they too are concerned about the far-reaching impact of Graceís lack of responsibility.† Many fear Graceís recent decision to no longer help with medical expenses of folks who had qualified for their own medical plan, has the potential to bankrupt our own state Medicaid program.
We appreciate the help the federal family has extended to northwest Montana. We donít know where we would be without the help the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substance Disease Registry and Congress have provided us. Everyone is doing heavy-lifting. Everyone it seems, but Grace.
I am here to thank Congress Ė and hard-working folks across the country for supporting our community. You have all done your part and we canít begin to thank you enough. But I would also like to add that W.R. Grace still has a place at our table. We need them to do their part too.
As Grace makes its way through federal bankruptcy court there are several things I would ask this committee and those present to consider to set aside a separate trust fund, established by Grace to cover the short-term prescription drug and home-health needs of folks in Libby who are struggling with asbestos-related disease. I would also ask you to consider establishing a trust fund for longer-term health care needs. I appreciate the questions that have been raised about long term funding for cleanup and the statutory authority for removing insulation in homes in Libby. Good health is all any of us can ask for. A clean bill of health is the most profound mark our federal friends will leave upon our community.
I appreciate your time and on behalf of Lincoln County, I thank you for this opportunity.