Today, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works meets to consider the nominations of Lyle Laverty to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and Kristine Svinicki to be a Commissioner for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Mr. Laverty, the position to which you are nominated is very important. I understand that you are a California native, and I welcome you today.
As you know, California is a state rich in biodiversity and stunning natural beauty and I hope that if you are confirmed for this position, you will always remember what is at stake for California and all of America’s natural treasures. Californians and all Americans live in a nation blessed with spectacular public lands and a rich array of wildlife.
Yet despite this richness, we have seen an unprecedented assault on our nation’s wildlife laws, conservation system and the science that underpins them.
From silencing scientists, to gutting our successful conservation laws, to under funding our public lands, this Administration is breaching the public trust owed to America’s natural heritage instead of honoring its duty to serve as effective stewards.
Indeed, in April of this year, the then-Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Julie MacDonald, resigned following a damning investigative report of the Inspector General of the Interior Department.
In that report, the Inspector General revealed, among other things, how that official leaked non-public information to special interests that had a financial stake in the outcome of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decisions.
The I.G. report also describes how this senior official “got into the face” of Fish and Wildlife Service personnel over their 5-year Endangered Species Act species reviews.
This kind of bullying of career scientists and policy experts cannot be tolerated.
Additionally, recent news reports have documented how the Vice President personally intervened in an important Endangered Species matter.
He reportedly rode roughshod over the process and the expert opinions of Department scientists, in order to influence the Department’s decision on water flows to the Klamath River.
As a result of this political intervention, the Department reportedly reversed course, and thousands of salmon died on the Klamath. This ecological disaster greatly affected our fragile rural economies that depend upon those species for commercial and recreational fishing businesses and related industries in the State of California and the Pacific Northwest.
There are similar reports of White House officials editing EPA scientific documents about global warming. I feel very strongly that the government must honor the science and not let politics override the facts.
We must recognize, as hundreds of the world’s leading scientists in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently found, that up to 40 percent of the planet’s species are at risk of possible extinction from global warming. This is a staggering thought, and one of the most important issues you will have to face if you are confirmed, Mr. Laverty.
In this position, you would be thrust into the middle of many crucial challenges and clashes between science and politics. If you are confirmed, I am counting on you to help us follow the science and to restore our commitment to America’s natural heritage.
Indeed, the position to which you are nominated, has considerable oversight over very important issues including the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge System.
We must use the best science to protect our rich natural heritage. We owe our children and grandchildren a rich legacy of wildlife and great open spaces.
Ms. Svinicki, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has many important issues that will have to be considered during your tenure if you are confirmed. I want to mention two of immediate concern to me.
One key issue facing the NRC is nuclear waste disposal, and plans to transport nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. Protecting public health and safety should be the primary test in assessing nuclear waste disposal options. Yucca Mountain continues to fail that test.
My State of California is one of the most affected by the Yucca Mountain project, which is only 17 miles from the California border and Death Valley National Park.
Studies have shown that the groundwater under Yucca Mountain flows into Death Valley, one of the hottest and driest places on the earth. If radiation contaminates this groundwater, it could be the demise of the national park and the surrounding communities.
The threat posed by nuclear waste transport in California is also clear. Over 7.5 million people live within 1 mile of a possible nuclear transport route.
Yucca’s geology also remains a concern. Two active faults run through Yucca Mountain, though they do not cross the repository.
A nuclear waste repository poses dangers that have no parallel in human history. We must not short-circuit the vital scientific and public processes needed to address these dangers. Strong science, good planning and public confidence must be part of any solution to the nuclear waste disposal problem. We have not achieved this at Yucca Mountain.
In addition, I am deeply concerned that GAO recently completed a sting operation in which the NRC issued a materials license to a fake corporation in West Virginia.
Once GAO received the license for their fake company, GAO altered it so that it appeared that the company was allowed to receive an unlimited quantity of radioactive sealed sources rather than the relatively small amount that had been approved by the NRC.
After altering the license, GAO was able to receive commitments from suppliers of Category 3 sealed radioactive sources (Category 1 is the most dangerous) to provide more than ten times the materials the original license would have allowed.
I have serious concerns about the NRC’s ability to ensure materials licenses are not going to individuals who might try to amass quantities of radioactive materials and use them to inflict harm.
I understand that there is a delicate balance between ensuring the legitimate users, like hospitals and construction companies, of tools that contain radioactive materials are able to receive equipment they need without lengthy delay, but GAO’s investigation raises serious concerns that the NRC needs to address.
In sum, both Mr. Laverty and Ms. Svinicki are nominated to be entrusted with protecting critical resources and the basic safety of the American public. The American public has a right to expect the best public servants in these positions. I look forward to hearing from both of you today.
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