U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   09/23/2003
 
Statement of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
Nomination of Michael O. Leavitt

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to join my colleagues in welcoming Governor Leavitt, his wife and his family to the committee.

I also want to welcome a New York constituent who is especially concerned about the environment and air quality issues. Catherine McVay Hughes is a NYC downtown resident, who lives with her two young boys and husband one block east of the World Trade Center. I thank her for her work on these issues, and for being here today.

This is an extremely important hearing on the President's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. In that capacity, Governor Leavitt would be responsible for carrying out the EPA's mission to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment air, water and land-upon which life depends.

There are many issues I am concerned about, and that I would like to discuss this morning. I am dismayed by the environmental policy choices that this Administration has made, and their impacts on the health of New Yorkers and its special places, from the Great Lakes to the Adirondacks to the Long Island Sound. Just to give one example, the Administration's recent decision to eviscerate the Clean Air Act New Source Review provisions will mean more acid rain in the Adirondacks and more asthma in New York City.

And it's not just the decisions the Administration has made, it's the way that they have made them. The Administration has not played it straight in pursuing its environmental policies. I won't repeat the litany of outstanding information requests from members of this committee, as Senator Jeffords has already discussed this matter in detail. But the fact is that the Administration has stonewalled Congress and the public time and time again by refusing to provide full and complete information.

So there are a lot of topics to cover, Mr. Chairman. And I regret the fact that I cannot cover them here today with Governor Leavitt. But questions raised by a recent EPA Inspector General report about EPA's response to the World Trade Center attacks compel me to focus on that issue. It's an issue that illustrates how much Americans rely on the EPA for information about the air they breathe and how this Administration has undermined EPA's credibility in that regard.

Just 12 days ago, we marked the two year anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It brought back memories and emotions for the victim's families, for New Yorkers, and I think for all Americans. I know it did for me.

I remember so well being there the day after the attacks, and seeing the firefighters emerging from the haze that hung over the site, covered in dust and debris; the rescue workers, whom all of us saw, and many of whom I have met, who guided people to safety without a mask or a bit of concern about their own long-term health. I am sure that Americans remember--and New Yorkers have lived with--the apartment buildings, the business buildings that were covered in gray dust.

When we turned to our Government in Washington for guidance in the hours, days, and weeks after that tragedy, one of the questions I was asked and the EPA was asked, the White House was asked, and the city and the State were asked was: Is the air safe?

What did the EPA tell us? The EPA said: Yes, it is safe. Go back to work, get back to your daily lives. Based on the EPA's statements, parents sent their children to school in the area and elderly residents returned to their apartments. But, unfortunately, the EPA Inspector General now tells us that EPA's statements were, quote, "not supported by the data available at the time."

Now, I recognize that EPA and everyone else involved were operating under unprecedented and extremely difficult circumstances. But I simply cannot accept what appears to have been a deliberate effort to provide unwarranted reassurances-apparently at the direction of the White House-to New Yorkers about whether their air was safe to breathe. And that's precisely what is stated in the August 26 Inspector General Report entitled "EPA's Response to the World Trade Center Collapse."

According to the EPA Inspector General, quote:

“EPA's early statement that the air was safe to breathe was incomplete in that it lacked necessary qualifications and thus was not supported by the data available at the time. CEQ influenced the final message in EPA's air quality statements. "

The IG went on to say that,

“[Based on the documentation we reviewed and our discussions with numerous environmental experts, both within and outside of EPA, we do not agree that the Agency's statement on September 18, 2001 that the air was safe to breathe r flected the Agency's best professional advice. In contrast, based on the circumstances outlined in Chapter 2 of the report, it appeared that EPA's best professional advice was overruled when relaying information to the public in the weeks immediately following the disaster. "

Mr. Chairman these revelations are outrageous. After reviewing the report carefully, I immediately wrote to President Bush, along with Senator Lieberman. In our letter, we asked for an explanation of White House interference in EPA's public statements about air quality in lower Manhattan. In addition, we asked the President to implement several of the IG's recommendations for ensuring that indoor air quality concerns have been properly addressed.

I would have thought that the White House would be outraged by these findings as well, and would want to get to the bottom of this and respond quickly. But that hasn't happened. We received a written response, not from the White House, but from Marianne Horinko, the Acting Administrator of the EPA. Unfortunately, Ms. Horinko's letter did not address our concerns. So Senator Lieberman and I sent a letter to the President reiterating our requests. We are still waiting for a reply.

The only response from the White House so far has been to suggest that national security interests justified their interference in EPA's statements. This is a canard. To say that national security somehow justifies telling people the air is safe when it is not is to essentially will engender distrust such that when people need their government most, they will trust them least.

This issue clouds the EPA's integrity. My constituents want and deserve a straight answer as to how and why they were misinformed, and until they get an answer, they and others will distrust the EPA's announcements. And with the White House's lack of an interest in simply providing answers, who can blame them?

That is why I decided to delay full Senate action on Governor Leavitt's nomination until the White House adequately responds to my concerns.

Mr. Chairman, I want to be clear that this does not reflect any judgment about Governor Leavitt's fitness to be EPA Administrator, as I expressed to him in our private meeting. I will evaluate Governor Leavitt's nomination based on his record and the responses that he provides to the questions that I ask him today and submit for his written response. But given the importance of this issue to my constituents, and the Administration's reluctance to be forthcoming to date, I feel that I have no choice but to hold Governor Leavitt's nomination until this issue is resolved.

ATTACHMENT

STATEMENT OF U.S. EPA LABOR UNIONS

ON IMPROPER WHITE HOUSE INFLUENCE ON EPA’S RESPONSE TO THE TERROR ATTACK OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

We, the undersigned representatives of the workers who perform health and environmental protection duties at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency across America, express our anger and dismay over evidence of the White House’s improper actions in connection with communicating health risk information to emergency workers and residents in New York immediately following the terror attacks on that city on September 11, 2001.

EPA’s dedicated Civil Service employees performed their duties swiftly and competently following the terror attack, assessing as accurately as possible the environmental health risks faced by the brave rescue workers and nearby residents from toxic substances released in the attack. These workers reported to senior EPA officials their best estimate of the risks, and they expected those estimates and the accompanying recommendations for protective measures to be released in a timely manner to those who needed the information.

The public was not informed of all of these health risks, some of which were avoidable. This information was withheld from the public under orders from the White House. Instead, the Bush White House had information released, drafted by political appointees, that it knew to contradict the scientific facts. It misinformed. And many rescue workers and citizens suffered. Some citizens now face the long-term risk of asbestos-related lung cancer as well as other debilitating respiratory ailments as a result.

Little did the Civil Service expect that their professional work would be subverted by political pressure applied by the White House. This unwarranted and inexcusable interference with the professional work of the Civil Service by politicians reporting directly to President Bush caused rescue workers and residents to be exposed to health risks that could have been, indeed should have been, avoided.

We express our solidarity with the rescue workers and residents who were affected adversely by this outrageous action of President Bush’s staff. There is no excuse for White House politicians imposing their values and overriding the Civil Service’s best advice on protecting those still digging in the wreckage and those whose homes and offices were covered with toxic debris.

President Bush owes the rescue workers, residents, dedicated Civil Service workers and the American people more than an apology for his actions in this matter. President Bush should take steps to compensate the rescue workers and residents who were harmed by his administration’s actions.

The President’s political appointees’ interference with the professional work of the EPA Civil Service has seriously harmed EPA’s credibility. Before there is another national emergency, that credibility must be restored.

The President must pledge to never again order EPA to tell less than the whole truth about a public health emergency.

Signed:

/s/ Paul Sacker /s/ Dwight Welch

President AFGE Local 3911, New York President NTEU Chapter 280, Washington, DC

/s/ Alan Hollis /s/ Henry Burrell

President AFGE Local 3631, Philadelphia President AFGE Local 3428, Boston

/s/ Nancy Barron /s/ Gretchen Helm

President NAGE Local R5-55, Atlanta President AFGE Local 3331, Washington, DC

/s/ Charles Orzehoskie /s/ Merrit Nicewander

President AFGE Local 704 Chicago President AFGE Local 1003, Dallas

/s/ John C Anderson /s/ Kevin Orendorf

President NTEU Chapter 294 Kansas City President AFGE Local 3607, Denver

/s/ Wendell Smith /s/ Patrick Chan

President ESC EPA-Unit San Francisco President NTEU Chapter 295, San Francisco

/s/ Mary St. Peter /s/ Mark Coryell

President AFGE Local 1110, Seattle President AFGE Local 3907, Ann Arbor

/s/ Larry Penley /s/ Silvia Saracco

President NTEU Chapter 279, Cincinnati President AFGE Local 3347 Research Triangle Park

/s/ Nita Tallent-Halsell /s/ Lesley Mills

President NAGE R12-135, Las Vegas President NAGE R1-240, Narragansett

/s/ Geraldine Cripe

President NAGE Local R5-95