SENATOR FRANK R. LAUTENBERG
EPW SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING ON
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Good afternoon, and welcome to this oversight hearing of the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics, and Environmental Health.
We’re here today because there are hundreds of highly dangerous Superfund sites across the country that sit unabated in our neighborhoods.
These sites continue to contaminate the environment, endanger the health of our children and sabotage communities that want to strengthen their economies.
To note just one statistic on the potential health impacts, a 2009 study found that children in school districts near Superfund sites are one-and-a-half times more likely to have autism than those who do not live near Superfund sites.
Yet GAO reports that there are at least seventy-five Superfund sites that pose “unacceptable human exposure.”
These sites have soil that is poisoned by chemicals, groundwater that is contaminated or air that is toxic.
The health effects are alarming: birth defects, developmental disorders and cancer have all been linked to chemicals found at Superfund sites.
Yet the work to clean up these properties has slowed to a crawl since the Polluter Pays fee expired and the fund ran dry.
Since 2003, funding for Superfund cleanups has relied on taxpayers.
In the 1990s, when the fee on oil and chemical companies was in effect, EPA was cleaning up more than eighty sites a year.
Last year it cleaned up only twenty.
As we will hear from GAO today, the EPA simply does not have the funding to get the job done.
In fact, when adjusted for inflation, funding for Superfund cleanups has plummeted by thirty-five percent since the Polluter Pays fee expired in 1995.
Our families, children and nearby small businesses have been shouldering the pain and punishment of these blighted sites for too long.
We will hear today from Lois Gibbs, who experienced the tragedy of Love Canal firsthand.
Her experience, and the experience of others across the country, show us that we have to make cleaning up these Superfund sites a bigger priority.
Once these sites are free of pollutants, an albatross will be lifted.
Children’s health will be protected, parents will have greater peace of mind and entrepreneurs will be encouraged to invest once again in these communities.
We have two witnesses here today who will tell us that eliminating Superfund sites turns community plagues into sources of community pride.
I want to say something to my colleagues on this subcommittee, it’s fair to say that we all agree on some basic principles: we must clean up these festering sites, and when the responsible party can be found, the responsible party must pay.
But here’s the problem, many of the most egregious Superfund sites are orphan sites, the original polluters are no longer around.
So we have before us two choices for these orphan sites: force taxpayers to foot the bill for the cleanup or get the polluting industries to pay.
I can tell you where I stand: against the polluters and with the taxpayers.
That’s why I introduced the Polluter Pays Restoration Act, which will reinstate the fee on chemical and oil companies to fund Superfund cleanups.
I am pleased that the Obama Administration officially endorsed this proposal yesterday, and that Senators Cardin, Sanders, Whitehouse, Merkley, Levin, Murray and Menendez have joined me in cosponsoring the bill.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about the future of the Superfund program, and I also look forward to working with Senators on both sides of the aisle to tackle this problem.
Before we hear from this important panel, I will turn to other members for their opening statements.