Vitter Summary Statement for Hearing Examining the Safety and Security of Water in West Virginia
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife “Examination of the Safety and Security of Drinking Water Supplies Following the Central West Virginia Drinking Water Crisis”
February 4, 2014
Thank you, Chairman Cardin, for convening this important subcommittee hearing today on the West Virginia chemical spill. My thoughts certainly go out to the more than 300,000 individuals affected by this accident and I hope that today's panel can help us better understand the circumstances surrounding this spill to enhance response and prevention in the future.
I'd like to begin by commending Senator Manchin and all those who have worked tirelessly in the wake of this unfortunate spill. Senator Manchin, along with Senator Boxer and Senator Rockefeller, have introduced legislation in response to the spill, and while I am supportive of their efforts, I have some concerns with how their legislation is drafted which I have shared with Senator Manchin and his staff.
A crucial part of the legislative process is undertaken at the Committee level where, traditionally, bills are brought to markup for an open and transparent discussion, and members from both sides of the aisle are allowed to voice their opinions and offer amendments to be voted on through the democratic process. I want to thank Chairman Boxer for agreeing to a markup later this week, but in my opinion we should be holding more markups to complete our work.
Senator Manchin's bill, along with other important pieces of legislation like the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), should be brought before this Committee in a markup to allow the legislative process to play out. In an age where compromise is so rare, it is unfortunate that a bill, which has the support of one quarter of the United States Senate -12 Democrats and 13 Republicans - like the CSIA cannot be discussed and voted on in Committee. Multiple bipartisan bills in addition to the CSIA, like the BUILD Act, continue to languish without any Committee action, keeping them from moving regularly through the United States Senate. The BUILD Act is another with impressive bipartisan support, having been introduced by Senators Lautenberg, Inhofe, Udall, and Crapo, which we have discussed extensively in Committee. The fact we cannot move forward on these important pieces of legislation is a real shame and I hope that we can work together to make sure we move these bills through the committee process as expeditiously as possible.
It is clear that important information was not readily available on certain chemicals which got into the Elk River, further highlighting the need for reforming our nation's outdated law that assesses chemical risks, the 38 year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
I am proud to have introduced the first ever bipartisan TSCA reform bill, the CSIA, with the late Senator Lautenberg who was a true champion of protecting human health and the environment. As many of you know, the CSIA currently is cosponsored by 25 Senators from both parties spanning a wide range of the political spectrum.
For the last six months, Senator Udall and I - along with other members of the Senate including Senator Manchin - have worked tirelessly to improve an already impressive bipartisan agreement. I can assure you all that those Senators and members of the environmental and public health communities who have constructively engaged us to improve the CSIA understand the important strides that have been made, and share in my optimism for finally overhauling this law to better protect citizens across the nation. To be clear, the bill we have now is not the bill that was initially introduced, and we have carefully listened to stakeholders to make measurable improvements.
A vast majority of states, West Virginia included, have resource constraints and need the certainty of a strong federal program that develops risk assessments and regulations based on sound science. It is important to quickly explain how the CSIA would unequivocally help states and the American people with greater access to information, aiding in the understanding and response to an incident such as the West Virginia spill.
First, the CSIA would allow for an expedited prioritization process within EPA for states to petition the Agency to review chemicals that they have concern with. Those chemicals would, at a minimum, receive a screening level review and be prioritized by EPA as high or low based on the information. Once this prioritization decision is made, the bill would require a public finding by the Agency that would clearly justify the basis for EPA's decision.
A high priority finding, which can be based solely on the lack of information present during the prioritization process, would allow EPA to utilize the new and improved tools and authorities afforded to the Agency under our bill.
To put that into the context of this spill, the lack of health and safety data on any of the chemical compounds which spilled would have been enough for EPA to have classified them as a high priority, requiring a full and robust safety assessment and determination. The CSIA would have granted greater authority to EPA to ensure the assessment and determination process be informed by new studies ordered by EPA without having to go through the formal rulemaking process or find that the chemical may pose an unreasonable risk. The CSIA would reduce barriers for the Agency that exist now, and also would allow for greater sharing of confidential information between EPA and state and local governments, as well as first responders and health practitioners.
Finally, I would like to welcome all of our witnesses today, in particular Senators Manchin and Rockefeller and Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito as we look into what happened in their state of West Virginia.