Statement of Senator Max Baucus
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Superfund,
April 10, 2002
I would like to thank Senator Boxer for holding this timely hearing on the Superfund program.†† As many of my colleagues on this Committee know, the Superfund program has had an enormous impact on my state.† The most recent and most dramatic example has been in Libby, Montana.†
Libby stands out because the human cost from wide-spread environmental contamination has been so great †-- over 200 people have died from exposure to asbestos contaminated vermiculite from the now-defunct mine owned and operated by WR Grace.† Many hundreds, if not thousands, more are expected to die over the next few decades.† Unfortunately, WR Grace has declared bankruptcy.† Who knows how much WR Grace will ultimately contribute to the long-term health and well being of the Libby community.†
Although the Environmental Protection Agency should have addressed the problem in Libby many years before it did, the EPA, once it invoked its authorities under CERCLA, has done a very good job in Libby in responding to the most immediate public health hazards posed by the vermiculite contamination.† I hope and believe that EPA will continue to make Libby one of its top priorities for long-term clean-up now that the Governor has chosen Montananís only ďsilver bulletĒ for Libby.†
But, I do want to point out that EPAís positive activities in Libby illustrate how very important the Superfund program is, in providing the resources, the authority and the expertise needed to address serious environmental and public health disasters, such as occurred in Libby.† The program is not perfect, no program is perfect, but it is effective and it is working in Libby, Montana.
I remember very clearly when Congress was debating Superfund, and thinking what an awesome legacy we in Congress could leave America by enacting this historic legislation.† Seeing how Superfund has played out in Libby 25 years later means a lot to me personally; I know what itís meant to the people in Libby.
Libby is the highest-profile Superfund site in Montana, but it is not the only Superfund site in Montana.† Montana is also home to one of the largest Superfund sites in the nation in the Clark Fork Basin.† The site, contaminated by abandoned and active hardrock mine wastes stretches for more than 100 miles in Southwestern Montana, and includes the mile-deep Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.† Despite the size of this site, and the sheer amount of contamination, the Clark Fork has seen a lot of success from the Superfund program, not only in terms of clean-up, but also economic benefits for the local community.†††††
There are many other sites in my state, the legacy of our mining and industrial past.† Ultimately, all of these sites must be cleaned-up. Like many of my colleagues, I donít want to see cleanup delayed.† As the Chairwoman said in her opening statement, a Superfund designation is not a trivial event for the communities involved -- it invokes fear and uncertainty about the future and about the effects of any contamination on public health, it affects real estate prices and it can impact local business.†† Itís just not fair to saddle communities with that burden for any longer than is necessary.† I am concerned, as are many of my colleagues on this Committee, that the Administration may be reducing the federal governmentís commitment to protecting the health and well being of our citizens through the Superfund program.† I am particularly concerned that sites in my state may not get funded next year, even sites that are in the middle of the clean-up process.†
I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses today, and I hope the Administration will be able to respond to my concerns satisfactorily.††