Statement of Senator Baucus
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, Risk and Waste Management
Oversight hearing on the Superfund program
July 31, 2002
Thank you, Chairwoman Boxer, for holding this timely hearing today on the status of the Superfund program. You have always been a great champion of the Superfund program and I admire your leadership and hard-work on this issue.
I am very concerned, as I know you are Madame Chairwoman, that we're losing momentum on Superfund with this Administration.
As I've stated before, I remember very clearly when Congress debated the original Superfund law, and I remember thinking what an incredible legacy Congress could leave the nation by enacting that historic legislation.
Seeing how successful Superfund has been over the last 25 years, particularly in Libby, Montana, reinforces my belief that we did the right thing for the people of this country when we created the Superfund program.
That's why I was very disturbed by the Inspector General's report that indicated the Administration planned to reduce funding or delay clean-up efforts at Superfund sites around the country. These are sites that are heavily contaminated with hazardous and toxic materials, that pose significant threats to public health and the environment.
Two of the sites mentioned in that report are located in my state of Montana - the Upper Tenmile site and the Basin Creek mining site. Both of these sites are on the National Priorities List. In the case of the Tenmile site, the City of Helena's water supply is threatened with toxic mine wastes. This is very serious.
I understand that Basin and Tenmile received some funding after the Inspector General's report came out. But it's also my understanding that this funding is less than one-third what Region 8 said was necessary to move forward with long-term clean-up plans at these sites. It looks to me like Basin and Tenmile got just enough funding to put a band-aid on the problem.
I'm extremely concerned that the more we fall behind in securing the funding necessary for clean-up activities at NPL sites like Tenmile and Basin, the worse off we're going to be in future years. This has serious implications for the future stability of the Superfund program.
How long can we fund the status-quo at heavily contaminated sites before the risks to public health and the environment become too great? How long before this practice ends up costing us far more than if we provided the necessary funding at the front-end of the process?
Let me emphasize again that a Superfund designation is not a trivial event for the communities involved - it invokes real fear and uncertainty in people about the future, about the future economic health of their community, and about the future effects of any contamination on their health or their children's health.
In a place like Libby, Montana, people just want to know that they're not going to be the next one to get sick or die. We should not burden communities with such fear and uncertainty for any longer than is necessary to remedy the problem.
I know my state is not alone in facing cut-backs in funding. I also know that the Administration and Congress have to juggle a lot of competing priorities. However, jeopardizing the viability of the Superfund program is just not an option, not when public health and safety is at risk.
Cleaning up massively contaminated sites and pursuing the parties responsible takes money, it takes a lot of money -- you just have to take one look at the Berkeley Pit or the WR Grace vermiculite mine in my state to grasp that fact. And, we're not always going to find a responsible party.
The sooner this Administration accepts that fact, the sooner we can start looking together for solutions to the problem, including taking another look at re-authorization of the Superfund tax to replenish the trust fund, so that individual taxpayers aren't stuck with the tab. I commend you, madame Chairwoman, for starting that discussion by introducing S. 2596. I'm proud to be a co-sponsor of that legislation because we have to look at every available option to shore up Superfund.
Madame Chairwoman, I thank you again for holding this hearing so we can get to the bottom of what's going on with the Superfund program. I look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses.