U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   09/28/2005
 
Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords
The Role of Science in Environmental Policy-Making

Mr. Chairman, I know that today’s hearing is one you have hoped to conduct for some time, certainly since State of Fear was published. I want to be clear that my support for you, and the work we have done together, should not be diminished by my concern about the timing and content of today’s hearing. But, I feel I must publicly express that concern on my own behalf and that of the minority members of this Committee.

Mr. Chairman, given the profound human suffering and ecological damage along the Gulf Coast, why are we having a hearing that features a fiction writer as our key witness? Some may accuse me, as a policy maker, of falling into the exact policy trap that Mr. Crichton’s book critiques -- being too focused on the consequences of the recent large scale natural disasters and our nation’s policy response to them.

In Mr. Crichton’s book, State of Fear, a terrorist ring is deployed to cause environmental destruction and bring attention to environmental issues. But I assure you, Mr. Chairman, that unlike these characters in State of Fear, I did not cause the two Gulf hurricanes in order to prompt this Committee and this government into action.

The damage caused by these two Gulf storms is not fiction. And, as far as I am aware, no one on the minority side of this Committee has advocated that these storms should be used as the justification for the adoption of wild-eyed, drastic new policy initiatives. Instead, the destruction we have witnessed in recent weeks raises serious scientific questions that need to be answered in the very near term.

We should be looking into the role of science in making critical response and recovery decisions. We need to incorporate scientific information as we develop programs to help prevent future flood damage. How will we determine the appropriate health and environmental standards for re-habitation of inundated areas? What does science tell us about the best ways to reconstruct in the Gulf Region? Should we be engaging in enhanced wetland protection and reconstruction to possibly protect against the severity of future storms?

We should be asking those questions and getting answers expeditiously, as much as we may want to be focusing our attention on the longer term interaction between science and decision making.

I should also say, in my 30 years in Congress, that I have been proud of some of the decisions we’ve made, even in the absence of perfect scientific information. We authorized a Brownfields program to help clean up our cities and towns. We did so even though in the decades since we passed Superfund we have continued to learn about the nature of toxic substances and the best ways to remediate them.

As one of our witnesses will testify, the Senate ratified the Montreal Protocol to address ozone-depleting substances, even though there was some scientific uncertainty as that agreement was negotiated.

Sometimes we need to act to preserve or even improve human health and the environment even when we don’t have perfect information. We certainly would not want to wait until there is substantial scientific evidence of human suffering or death; in my opinion that is too long. And we all recognize that one man’s credible science is another man’s boloney.

Mr. Chairman, at the same time that this hearing is being held, there is also a Finance Committee hearing on Hurricane Katrina where the Governors of each of the affected states will be testifying. As a member of that committee, I plan to attend that hearing and will not be able to stay for all of this hearing.

I ask Mr.Chairman that I be able to submit written questions to the witnesses, and that I am also able to submit additional scientific information into the record on the topics raised by the witnesses.

I am anxious to hear from these Governors who may help us to better understand how the federal agencies we oversee in this Committee may have let them down, and how, or if our Committee can act to improve the crucial functioning of these agencies.

This week, I will introduce legislation that the minority side of this Committee believes is necessary to respond to the Gulf hurricanes. I think those affected by those disasters deserve nothing less than our full attention when they are most in need.