Hearings - Statement
 
Statement of Barbara Boxer
Hearing: Full Committee hearing entitled, “Oversight Hearing on Cleanup Efforts at Federal Facilities.”
Thursday, September 18, 2008

(Remarks as prepared for delivery)

We are here today to conduct oversight on the cleanup of toxic waste at federal facilities.

Federal facility sites are some of the most heavily-contaminated toxic waste sites in our nation. They can be polluted with radioactive waste, or dangerous chemicals such as arsenic, lead, and benzene – which are known to cause cancer or to harm the reproductive and nervous systems.

Some federal facilities have old unexploded bombs or other ordnance that, if not addressed, can threaten human life with dangerous explosions, or by slowly releasing toxins into the environment.

The men and women who are serving their country and living on bases, and in some cases their children, can be at greatest risk. These threats are not distant or in the future – they are here today and they must be addressed.

In my state of California, there are many federal sites with serious contamination problems. I’ll highlight just two of them.

The first is the Santa Susanna Federal Laboratory site in Simi Valley, in the Los Angeles area. Since the 1950s, federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, and private contractors did testing of experimental nuclear reactors and rockets, and processing of nuclear fuel at the site. A partial reactor meltdown occurred there in 1959.

The site is contaminated with radioactive and other toxic substances that can cause cancer and endanger the health of pregnant women and infants.

Cleanup activities are on-going -- but a full site investigation has yet to be completed for all radioactive and chemical contamination. I have worked with the community to intervene when DOE has failed to properly perform the work, which has happened over and over again. Today, we will hear from one of the leaders in the effort to ensure this site is properly addressed.

Another California site of concern is Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, a Department of Energy Superfund site in Alameda County. This site has groundwater polluted with various contaminants, including TCE and perchlorate.

While cleanup at this site has been conducted for some time, almost 100 wells pump groundwater from the site to remove underground contamination, and treatment facilities continue to remove contaminants.

In March of this year, EPA raised serious concerns with DOE after it transferred this site from one arm of DOE to another, and proceeded to shut down toxic waste treatment wells because the program to which cleanup responsibility was transferred claimed that it did not have enough money to pay for all of the needed cleanups.

DOE finally reprogrammed money to help get the toxic waste cleanup wells at the site back on-line, but DOE is planning on moving more sites into the same troubled and underfunded program next fiscal year. I am concerned about similar problems in the future.

Several of my colleagues requested this hearing because unfortunately the Bush Administration has allowed federal facilities to resist following cleanup orders.

No federal agency is above the law. DOD and DOE facilities must abide by cleanup standards that protect communities from toxic threats. They cannot be allowed to escape responsibility.

The DOD should not be able to place itself above the law by asking the White House Office of Management and Budget to tell EPA to back off. That is unacceptable in any circumstance – but especially when the health of our families is at risk.

We need to ensure that federal facilities live up to their obligation to clean up toxic sites that they have created in our communities.

I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witnesses today.

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