Mr. Chairman: My name is Kathy J. Zanetti. I am a 49-year-old grandmother of four and a proud member of a fifth generation family from the Historic Silver Valley of North Idaho.
I would like to thank you and Senator Crapo for the opportunity to speak before this committee today on a topic that has dominated the attention of my community for the last two years.
I am honored to represent the Citizens of Silver Valley and testify in support of Senate Bill 606. As Senator Crapo stated, I am the chairman of Shoshone Natural Resources Coalition, a non-profit group of volunteer citizens, who work and live in the Coeur d’ Alene basin and are concerned about Human Health, Environmental and Economic Issues.
We are a grassroots organization made up of a very diverse group of individuals. SNRC represents business owners, district school officials, community leaders, local elected officials and generations of Silver Valley Families. Many of our members have been involved in EPA issues in the Upper CDA Basin for 20 plus years.
And although our approach and opinions about cleanup in the Silver Valley may be different, we are united in the common need for a truly independent Ombudsman.
We are a community filled with an intense pride, for our heritage, our families and most of all our way of life. A way of life now held precariously in peril by the decisions of various federal agencies.
The Environmental Protection Agency came to the Silver Valley in the early 1980’s shortly after CERCLA [Superfund] became law, to address specific cleanup at the Bunker Hill Smelter and they have been there ever since.
Although, there may have been a human health risk that warranted their presence at the time, there is no medical or undisputed scientific evidence that one exits today.
In the last 20 some years, the EPA has spent over $400million dollars in the Silver Valley and has not even completed the original scope of cleanup. EPA Region 10 deceived the public by first promising that the superfund site in Kellogg would not extend beyond its initial 21-square mile box.
Yet, they have unilaterally expanded the range of remediation by 1500 square miles, crossing state lines, adding to the cost another $360millon dollars (possibly as much as $1.3billion) and creating the Nation’s Largest Superfund Site. With little or no regard to the citizens or communities who must endure these ever changing boundaries.
Whereupon today, after all the money and billion-dollar expansion plans, EPA’s own Central Impoundment Area at the Bunker Hill Superfund Site, remains the largest point source contributor of metals into our watershed.
It is our sincere wish to take care of any necessary cleanup that remains to be done in the Upper Basin, to get out from under the Stigma of “Superfund”, and to rebuilding our lives, as well as, the economic stability of our community.
Superfund actions around the nation have taken on a life of their own, which hold communities such as mine in a never-ending state of limbo. It appears that Region 10 EPA in their dealings with the Coeur d’ Alene River Basin of North Idaho has become a Bureaucratic machine, driven by personal agendas.
After years of attending meetings, drafting comments and writing hundreds of letters, we realize that our voices have fallen on deaf ears. When in reality, we were merely being counted as part of the agencies numbers game. They hold hearings and workshops but do not seem to listen to the concerns of the communities involved.
We have truly had nowhere else to turn, until the Ombudsman stepped forward.
EPA’s OFFICE OF HAZARDOUS WASTE AND THE OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL:
The Office of the Ombudsman has answered our call to the Silver Valley.
First, under the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, where it’s authority was maintained by the very entity it was investigating, budgets and personnel were used to control ombudsman activities and who’s mail was often intercepted by EPA Congressional Affairs. All of which resulted in a total lack of independence. Where the United States Department of Justice even attempted to kill the investigation to protect its Natural Resource Damage lawsuit.
Second, at present, under the Office of Inspector General, the Ombudsman is to assume duties other than those designated under Superfund, take on an increased workload and basically ceases to exist as an office because, it is now a part of yet, another bureaucracy within a larger bureaucracy.
While we welcome the attempt to work with the IG’s office and will welcome them with open but cautious arms to the Silver Valley, we feel that in the long term this situation cannot work. There must be a dedicated, independent Ombudsman.
The National Ombudsman serves as the only intermediary between EPA and citizens when things have gone terribly awry. This office is the last resort and sometimes the only resort for the common citizen and common sense. The Office of the Ombudsman, above all else, requires independence, so that it may work effectively with both sides to find reasonable and successful solutions that are environmentally sound and meeting the needs of communities everywhere.
The ombudsman position is the people’s court of last resort. Communities like the Silver Valley need an Ombudsman who not only can, but also who must, intervene on environmental health and safety issues on our behalf. Without having their hands tied, actions influenced and censored by the controls of other agencies.
Only the Ombudsman can answer our call to do the right thing!
SENATE BILL 606, THE OMBUDSMAN REATHORIZATION ACT:
To be effective and of true service to the public, an Ombudsman must be independent, accountable and unbiased. I believe Senate Bill 606 achieves these objectives. Without S606 communities like mine have nowhere to turn when they have exhausted all hope of working constructively with the EPA. And I for one; refuse to continue to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to use my own tax dollars unchecked against either me, or my family.
Finally, in this Great Nation, our structure of government is set up with many forms of checks and balances, so that citizens have a channel to express concerns against abuse or cupreous acts of public officials.
The National Ombudsman Office is that channel, and therefore, should be able to work unimpeded to help achieve fair, as well as reasonable, checks and balances of the EPA.
In conclusion, I would like to also submit this written testimony.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before this committee today and I urge you to please support Senate Bill 606.