Thank you Mr. Chairman and Senator Jeffords for calling this hearing today to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2005.
First, I’d like to thank Administrator Leavitt for appearing here today to answer our questions about his agency’s priorities for the next fiscal year. I would also like to thank Administrator Leavitt personally for the good faith of his staff who worked closely with my office to schedule his visit to Montana. I believe we’re looking at setting a date in late spring, and I’m very pleased we’re close to finalizing his important visit.
Sometimes I think people get tired of hearing me talk about Libby, Montana. But you just can’t appreciate the size and scope of that tragedy unless you see it for yourself, and talk to the local people who are directly affected. I believe that after your visit, you will leave with the same personal commitment to the town of Libby that your predecessor, Christie Todd Whitman, did.
A visit to Libby will also help you put in context my continuing concern about making sure EPA has enough resources to finish the job in Libby. I understand that allocating resources among all of the competing demands at EPA is an enormous challenge. But, Libby, Montana should remain one of EPA’s top priorities.
Why? Because people are dead and dying in Libby, Montana from decades of exposure to asbestos. I know that I’ve said it over and over and over again. But it always bears repeating. We cannot forget the human scale of the Libby tragedy, and that’s what must drive the EPA’s commitment to finish the fine response and clean-up work that it started back in 1999. The people in Libby are working hard to revitalize their economy and their community, and are rightly proud of their resilience and their ability to land on their feet.
They deserve all the help we can give them to make their town whole again. I have fought for years to make sure Libby has the resources it needs.
But, even though we are more than three years into EPA’s clean-up of Libby, only 10% of the total amount of clean-up work has been completed.
Two years ago, Marianne Horinko testified before this committee and promised me EPA would clean-up the town of Libby in two years, in 2004. Now, EPA tells me it will be closer to five years, maybe by 2008 or later.
Region VIII has requested $20 million per year to clean-up Libby, starting in Fiscal Year 2003. They received approximately $17 million of that in Fiscal Years 2003. Because they ran out of money at the end of 2003, they were forced to take a $2 million “advance” on their Fiscal Year 2004 allocation. This will leave Region VII with only $15 million for the remainder of FY 2004. While I understand that this is not technically a budget cut, the reduced allocation will clearly affect the pace of clean-up in Libby. How soon will the EPA run out of money in 2004? Will they get another advance, and how will that impact clean-up in 2005? 2006? I understand that no money has been allocated to clean-up the W.R. Grace mine site, or the near-by town of Troy, which also has asbestos contamination.
A clean-up as important as Libby, that is as well-managed as I’m told it is, deserves the full support of EPA headquarters, in order to keep the clean-up on track and to protect the lives and health of the citizens of Libby. This clean-up does not deserve to be nickel and dimed to death. If you fund the clean-up at the level it requires, the sooner it will be done, the sooner the people of Libby can return to normal lives, and the sooner the EPA will be able to hold Libby up as a Superfund success story and move on to clean-up other sites around the country.
Superfund is a powerful force for environmental and public health protection. It provides the enormous leverage and financial resources of the federal government to help clean-up sites that states and localities could never handle on their own. It also provides a strong deterrent against the creation of future messes. But, starving the program of resources only hurts its effectiveness. And, it certainly doesn’t alter risks to public health and the environment from sites that have not been identified or cleaned-up.
I wholeheartedly agree that the first resort under a program like Superfund is to ensure that those responsible for contamination at a particular site pay to clean it up. This is the basis of the polluter-pays philosophy that underpins the entire Superfund program. However, we’re seeing more and more bankruptcies, and more and more large and complex sites where no responsible party can be found.
Without a dedicated trust fund for the Superfund program, clean-up of toxic sites around the country where there is no “polluter” to pay has to depend in large part on the good-will of Congress and the generosity of the American taxpayer. In these tight budget years, that means funding has fallen or remained flat.
This stretches dollars more thinly over a growing backlog of work. We’re not making this up – both the General Accounting Office and the EPA’s own Inspector General have recently documented the budgetary problems within the EPA’s Superfund program and the impact this has on both the pace and scope of clean-up work.
Superfund is just too important to let this happen. It’s not glamorous, it’s not exciting, it moves slowly and methodically, but that doesn’t mean the work performed under the Superfund program is not incredibly important to impacted communities and to the health of the nation as a whole. You can’t snap your fingers and hope that the legacy of sometimes more than a century of pollution will suddenly disappear. It takes time, focus, dedication and an enormous amount of resources.
We owe it to our children and grandchildren to maintain the integrity of the Superfund program. I would like to see the Administration and the EPA share that point of view. It’s time to reinstate the Superfund fees in order to replenish the Superfund Trust Fund. The resources and leverage provided by this fund are crucial to the long-term health and effectiveness of this program. It’s crucial to the citizens of my state, in Libby, and at other important sites around Montana, including Ten Mile, Basin Creek and the Milltown Dam site.
Superfund can showcase the federal government at its best – protecting the lives, health and welfare of its citizens. I will ask that Administrator Leavitt take the lead in this Administration in advocating for the renewal of the Superfund fees and the revival of the Superfund trust fund. Although the EPA has proposed increasing the budget for Superfund slightly in 2005 from what the President requested in 2004, it has done so at the expense of other important programs, like clean water. I don’t think that these unacceptable trade-off’s are necessary, if we do the right thing and revive the Superfund trust fund.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.