Hearings - Statement
 
Statement of John Thune
Hearing: Subcommittee on Superfund and Waste Management
Oversight Hearing on the Superfund Program
Thursday, June 15, 2006

Today’s hearing will come to order. I would like to welcome everyone to our oversight hearing regarding the Superfund program – a program that I have gained a better understanding of since I joined the EPW Committee. Also, today’s hearing is important because it’s been 4-years since this Committee held a hearing on the Superfund program.

 

As we begin today’s hearing, I would like to remind my colleagues and those who will be testifying before the Committee that you need to be diligent in keeping your remarks to Five Minutes to ensure that we can hear from all interested parties.

Also, there will be one 5-minute round of questions following each panel. Any additional questions for today’s witnesses will be submitted for the record.

With that, I will begin my opening statement and then yield to Senator Boxer, the Ranking Member of this subcommittee for her remarks -- other members of the Committee will be recognized based on the Early-Bird Rule.

Unlike other states that have numerous Superfund sites, South Dakota is relatively fortunate because it only has two such sites -- Gilt Edge Mine which was a 258-acre open pit cyanide heap-leach gold mine in the Black Hills and Ellsworth Air Force Base which continues to be monitored for groundwater contamination and other hazardous substances that were deposited by the military dating back to the 1940’s.

The primary purpose of our hearing today is to learn more about EPA’s efforts to stabilize and clean-up sites on the National Priority List. A diverse number of witnesses will: 1) testify regarding the potential risks that Superfund sites pose to the public; 2) update us on what PRPs and the EPA are doing to address the clean-up of contaminated sites and; 3) what improvements could be made to make the Superfund program operate more effectively – both in the short-term and the long-term.

It’s clear to me that the EPA faces a far different universe of clean-up demands than when the Superfund program started over 25-years ago. While some have criticized the Superfund program because the annual number of site completions have dropped, I would like to make the observation that the EPA is doing more today to protect human health and the environment – especially at large clean-up sites.

Take for instance the combined impact that the following laws have had on our country over the past three decades:

· The Clean Air Act,
· The Clean Water Act,
· The Resource Conservation Recovery Act,
· The Toxic Substance Control Act and,
· The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

While tremendous progress has been made to reduce human exposure to hazardous substances, I believe there is ample room for improvement – especially within the Superfund program. Hopefully following today’s hearing we can come to an agreement on a handful of improvements that can be made.

Last but not least, while not a central part of today’s hearing, I also want to raise concerns about what I consider to be a ludicrous attempt by some activists to regulate “Manure” under our Superfund laws.

Superfund was intended by Congress to provide for cleanup of the worst industrial toxic waste sites such as Love Canal. It was never intended to apply to substances such as manure. I have been approached numerous times in South Dakota by agriculture producers who are concerned that litigious attorneys might succeed in classifying manure as a hazardous substance.

Manure has been safely used for centuries as a natural fertilizer all over the world. If we allow animal manure to be considered a hazardous substance under Superfund, then virtually every farm operation in the United States could be exposed to liabilities and penalties. The economic impact across the country would be devastating to American agriculture and related industries. As many of you may know, Superfund claims could be brought against all sizes of operations and individuals.

The history of Superfund shows that all contributors, no matter their size, can and will be held liable. I do not believe Congress ever intended such an outcome for America’s farmers, and I think we need to address this issue in the near future.

Like other business sectors, American agriculture is appropriately regulated by a wide range of federal and state environmental laws -- including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and nuisance laws. It has never been considered to be regulated under Superfund, and I do not believe it should be now.

Currently, the agriculture industry is working with the private sector, universities and government agencies to develop new and emerging technologies for manure management, including using excess animal manure for energy generation through methane digesters. This is exciting technology – especially as our nation explores alternative sources of energy.

Congress should not allow activist judges to legislate from the bench on this issue. We need to act soon to clarify that liability and reporting requirements under CERCLA and parallel reporting requirements under EPCRA do not apply to livestock manure.

 

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