Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this business meeting to consider several important pieces of legislation and nominations. I congratulate all of the nominees — Mr. Martella, Mr. Graves, and Mr. Beehler. Thank your for your willingness to serve.
Many issues face us today. But I would like to focus on Mr. Beehler’s nomination to be the Inspector General at the EPA and the bipartisan Good Samaritan legislation before us.
Mr. Beehler, countless times I have sat at this dais and told stories about Libby, Montana. I’ve told the Story of Les Skramstad, the miner in Libby. When the news of the contamination in Libby broke, Les told me that he would be watching me to make sure that I kept my promises to help the community. I consider Les my good friend. It broke my heart to hear just the other day that he had to be hospitalized due to his asbestos related illnesses.
I’ve told the story of Mel and Leehra (L-E-E-R-A) Parker. Mel and Leehra had to abandon their tree nursery on the banks of the Kootenai River, because their property was so contaminated. Only weeks ago, the Parkers found more asbestos on their property in an area that was supposed to have been remediated.
Mr. Beehler, the story I would very much like to tell one day is the story of EPA getting the job in Libby done right. That is why last month in a letter to the Office of the Inspector General, I requested a review of EPA’s work in Libby. I want to make sure that the EPA has the necessary data to develop a baseline risk assessment and exposure criteria for tremolite asbestos. Mr. Beehler, the town of Libby does not need a rubber stamp. They need an advocate who will examine EPA’s work with an objective eye to make sure that this tragedy is not prolonged.
Mr. Chairman, I’d also like to take a moment to comment on the Good Samaritan legislation before us. I’d like to try to allay some of the concerns that I’ve heard about this bill. Let me state what this bill is not. It’s not a substitute for the Superfund program. In fact this legislation prohibits issuing Good Samaritan permits to remediate sites on the Superfund National Priorities List.
This bill is also not a loophole to protect polluters. Any person who had a role in the creation of the pollution is not eligible for a permit. If a person is liable under any Federal, State, tribal, or local law for the remediation of the site, then that person is not eligible for a Good Samaritan permit.
Neither is this bill a re-mining bill. A Good Samaritan could reprocess tailings and “previously mined ores and minerals that directly contribute to the contamination” to capture any value, but this must be incidental and secondary to the primary purpose of remediating a historic and abandoned mine site. This bill is an attempt to work together to help clean up the thousands of abandoned mines throughout the West. The scope of the problem is staggering. In Montana alone there are more than 5,000 abandoned hard rock mines.
This legislation alone will not solve this problem. But it is an important tool that will give Good Samaritans the liability protections that they need to encourage them to undertake these cleanups. In exchange for these liability protections, any potential Good Samaritan must meet rigorous standards to make sure that the cleanups are done right. Any project must improve the environment to a significant degree and meet applicable water quality standards. The bill also includes a public hearing and comment process. Finally, EPA and the relevant state or Indian tribe must concur with the issuance of, and sign, the permit. If local rules or ordinances are implicated by the permit, then local authorities must also concur with, and sign, the permit. The bill also includes a provision sunsetting the Good Samaritan program after 10 years. This is a good bill protective of human health and the environment.
I’m proud to have worked together with Senators Inhofe, Allard, and Salazar to craft a bill that both industry and Trout Unlimited have endorsed. Mr. Chairman, this bill will not solve the problem of abandoned mines. But it will help. I urge my Colleagues to support it.