U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   07/27/2006
 
Statement of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
A Hearing on the Stafford Act: A Path Forward for the Nation’s Emergency Preparedness and Response System

· Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this critically important hearing on the Stafford Act and the future of America’s emergency preparedness and response system.

· Obviously, this nation has experienced significant disasters throughout our history. Just in the past 15 years alone we have seen earthquakes in California, hurricanes and tornadoes throughout the Gulf and plains states - even now in New York - and of course the terrorist attacks in Oklahoma City and the attacks of September 11th 2001 that devastated New York and damaged the Pentagon.

· It is clear that with the National Hurricane Center’s predictions of a strong hurricane season this year, coupled with the new threats faced by this nation from terrorists, that we must ensure that the Stafford Act provides our government with all the necessary tools to guard against, prepare for, and respond to any disaster be it manmade or natural.

· This hearing is extremely important and timely for me.

· Mr. Chairman, nearly five years ago, on September 11th, terrorists murdered almost 3,000 people. 343 firefighters and paramedics and 60 police officers lost their lives. The single deadliest attack on American soil in our history.

· And in the aftermath this Congress responded swiftly to provide not only the assistance available under the Stafford Act but with other forms of financial assistance to rebuild New York City because of the severity of the attacks.

· And we have seen similar bi-partisan, bi-cameral support in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina where this Congress has acted outside of the current Stafford Act structure to provide the kind of long-term, rebuilding support needed for the impacted sttes along the Gulf Region.

· But Mr. Chairman we also have a great deal more to do not only in the Gulf but in New York as well.

· Mr. Chairman, when the Twin Towers fell in New York City there were thousands of firefighters, police officers, first responders, workers, and other volunteers who stood on the piles that were once buildings to look for any survivors.

· Thousands of these selfless heroes stayed for days, and weeks, as tons of debris continued to smolder and the air around them was filled with toxins.

· As a result today – nearly five years after those attacks – I have personally met with many individuals whose health continues to deteriorate. While I called for, and welcome, the efforts of Dr. John Howard, director of NIOSH, in his capacity as the federal coordinator for 9/11 issues to deal with the long-term issues in New York, the federal government has no plan to deal with this long-term health crisis.

· In fact, the Daily News in New York published a story on these individuals and about the health impact it is having upon individuals who can no longer perform their duty as firefighters and police officers because of diseases that have materialized, decrease breathing capacity, and other ailments that have emerged since 9/11.

· I ask unanimous consent that these stories be made a part of the record.

· Mr. Chairman I don’t think we know whether Hurricane Katrina will have the same long-term health impact but one thing is clear: we must determine what long-term medical and mental health needs should be tracked, monitored, and treated after significant natural or manmade disasters.

· I hope this panel will address this issue or that this Committee will look into this important issue because it is something that I have been dealing with, along with my colleagues in the New York delegation and Senator Voinovich, ever since 9/11 and with which we will need to deal with in the coming years.

· And Mr. Chairman, there is another matter I would like to raise.

· We saw the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent failed response by the federal government.

· And I am sure we will get into those issues.

· But there is also a question about the types of assistance we should be providing to individuals and small businesses.

· Mr. Chairman, we just experienced significant floods in Upstate New York as a result of the massive rain storms just a few weeks ago.

· And in Queens we are experiencing a massive blackout impacting thousands of individuals and over 700 businesses.

· As I traveled across these impacted areas, or speak with individuals, business owners, and local elected officials, there is a concern about the type and level of assistance that the federal government is able to provide.

· After 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, along with a few other big disasters in our nation’s history, we passed individual pieces of legislation to address things like business and crop losses which are normally dealt with by low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration.

· Many of my constituents who own small businesses cannot afford to take on any more loans especially after they have just lost their homes and all of their possessions.

· So I hope we will look at the types of federal assistance available to small businesses, individuals, local governments, and other entitites.

· The Stafford Act is an important tool to deal with disasters in this country and we have moved from an ad hoc approach to disaster response to a coordinated approach.

· The Stafford Act as it exists today became law in 1974 after consideration by this Committee - the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with FEMA being created by executive order in 1979.

· So Mr. Chairman I commend you for continuing stewardship over the Stafford Act which authorizes the President to act.

· And we know that the President has delegated his responsibilities to FEMA and DHS and others could also be directly impacted and we should look at that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.

· This Committee last amended the Stafford Act to provide for the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, P.L. 106-390, and we must make sure current mitigation programs reflect the threats we face from severe hurricanes and potential terrorist attacks.

· Perhaps it is time we look at some grant assistance for those communities that are not as economically strong as other communities and who will have a much harder time recovering from such widespread disasters.

· Finally Mr. Chairman, I hope we will address the lessons-learned from Hurricane Katrina.

· I have a stack of reports here, Mr. Chairman, that have been conducted by the House, the Senate, the GAO, the White House.

· After Hurricane Katrina struck I advocated for a single, independent Commission – modeled after the 9/11 Commission – to conduct an investigation into what went wrong and to provide a unified set of recommendations to us about what needs to be fixed.

· Unfortunately, we now have disparate reports and I am afraid we are poised to repeat some of the mistakes of the past.

· I hope we will address FEMA’s existing authorities to pre-position assets and for the President to make major disaster declarations even without a written request from a Governor because I believe such pre-planning and pre-positioning could help mitigate some of these large scale disasters.

· If the Stafford Act authorities need to be changed, clarified, expanded, or contracted I hope we will have the courage to make those changes.

· I look forward to working with all of my colleagues on this Committee and to hear from this panel as we move forward.

· Thank you, Mr. Chairman.