Statement of Senator Baucus

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Hearing on the Presidentís FY 2004 Budget Request for the EPA

February 26, 2003

9:30 a.m.

 

Thank you Mr. Chairman for calling this hearing today.Thank you, Ms. Whitman, for your time today to discuss the Presidentís budget for the EPA.I understand the challenges you face in allocating the EPAís scarce resources, and I look forward to continue working with you in a positive fashion, to protect the health and well being of the citizens of my state and the nation, and to protect and enhance our environment.

 

Over the years, EPA has done a good job of working in a positive and pro-active fashion with the people and communities in my state.Libby, Montana is an excellent example of this.Although we can probably all agree that EPA should have intervened in Libby far earlier, when your agency did act, it acted decisively in responding to the most immediate public health hazards posed by asbestos contamination.And, your agency has continued its commitment to Libby, as we look towards finishing the job and achieving a clean bill of health for the community.

 

Obviously, Iíll have some questions for you about maintaining momentum and focus in Libby on the clean-up process, and placing more emphasis on economic development and health care needs in Libby.But, I want you to understand how much I appreciate your personal commitment to the people of Libby.

 

And, as I have always said, 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 -- that are far beyond the ability of states and local communities to handle on their own.The Superfund program is not perfect, no program is perfect, but it is effective and it is working in Libby, Montana and across the nation.

 

Although Libby stands out because people have died and are dying as a result of massive asbestos contamination there, Libby is certainly not our only Superfund site and itís not the only area of our state where EPA plays a prominent and important role.Indeed, we have the largest Superfund site in the nation in the Clark Fort basin, in addition to the many other sites scattered across our state.

 


So, I share many of colleaguesí concerns about the long-term viability of the Superfund program.And, although I donít doubt that you and the Administration are committed to recovering as much of the cost of cleanup from responsible parties, we all know that those efforts will never be sufficient to cover the total costs of cleaning up many of these heavily contaminated sites.The recent EPA settlement with ASARCO is a prime example, and I will have a more specific question for you about that issue.But, in general, Iíd like to explore with you how the Administration plans to ensure the Superfund program is funded adequately in the foreseeable future, and how we can reduce the overall burden on the American taxpayer, rather than increase that burden, which is the direction we seem to be headed in.

 

I would also like to add my concerns about the Administrationís proposed reductions in the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund.Itís bad enough that you propose flat funding for the State Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund.But, I know you are well aware of the incredible water and wastewater funding backlogs facing state and local communities as they simply try to maintain their systems, let alone update and upgrade them to comply with new mandates.

Rural Montana alone has huge infrastructure needs -- Iíve been told that the Montana League of Cities and Towns has estimated repair and replacement costs of around $8 billion dollars to keep these systems going.The MontanaDepartment of Environmental Quality has estimates of infrastructure improvement needs of $1.4 billion, but the agency believes that figure only represents a part of the picture. To put these figures in contrast C you have proposed just $850 million for the Clean Water SRF and $850 million for the Safe Drinking Water SRF.

 

Also, new EPA and state mandates are creating a variety of financial and technical problems particularly for small and rural systems, including a lack of tested models for meeting these new standards.†† The burden is on the water districts to comply with these new mandates, even though, after 4 years of drought, many of these systems do not have the resources to implement necessary changes as well as pay for ongoing operation and maintenance.Also, as you know, it is much more difficult for small systems in general to finance multi-million dollar improvements to their systems, because they have so few rate-payers to share in the cost.

 

Additionally, small systems under 10,000 will receive no money in the Administrationís FY 2004 Budget to do required vulnerability assessments.There are 35 to 39 systems of that size in Montana that will need to perform this assessment.

 

Iíd like to explore in more detail with you how we can help these small and rural communities deal with these enormous costs and burdens -- we have to work with them to find real, workable solutions to the challenges of providing clean and safe drinking water and protecting the environment, and doing it in a manner that these communities can afford.

 

In sum, Ms. Whitman, I want to make sure that my state continues to have a positive relationship and partnership with EPA.I look forward to working with you over the next year.††

 

Thank you Mr. Chairman.