Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing on the Nominations of Dale Klein (NRC) and Molly O'Neill (EPA)
Thank you Mr. Chairman, today we have two nominees before us. The first, Dale Klein, has been nominated to serve as a Commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The mission of the NRC is one of the most vital functions carried out by the federal government. I will be asking questions to ensure that the nominee shares my view: the top priority for the NRC is safety. Mr. Klein has been nominated to join the NRC at a time when, I believe, public confidence in the Commission needs to be bolstered. Fortunately, and to the NRC’s credit, we have not had a serious nuclear accident at any of our nation’s nuclear facilities. But problems at several plants, including a plant in my home state of Vermont, have left the public wondering about the effectiveness of our regulatory system. We are asking the public to accept continued and expanded nuclear power generation. To do that, we need to earn their confidence that the NRC is ensuring that nuclear plants operate well and safely. I will be looking for assurances from the nominee that he is committed to this goal. Ms. O’Neill, it will be your role to lead EPA’s Office of Environmental Information. This office is critical for the Agency’s mission, and for helping the public understand and improve environmental conditions where they live, work and play. I am deeply concerned, however, that the Bush Administration seems intent on undermining the public’s right to know about environmental conditions in their community. Last year, the Administration proposed to shield polluters by throwing out the requirement that industry disclose toxic releases every year. Instead, the Administration would have them report toxic releases only every other year. The EPA also proposed to exempt thousands of facilities from revealing how much toxic waste was released and where it went. According to EPA’s own data, over 1,400 facilities that released cancer-causing materials in 2003 would be able to hide their emissions under this proposal. It is therefore not surprising that officials from 23 states submitted comments in opposition to this proposal. The Toxic Release Inventory program has proven to be one of the most successful environmental statutes. By shining a light on toxic releases across the nation, the volume of toxic material released annually has fallen by an estimated 59 percent since the disclosure requirement went into effect in 1988. But now, this Administration wants to dim that light. And just this week, we learned of a new assault on the public’s right-to-know. The Washington Post reported that funding cuts under President’s Bush fiscal year 2007 budget would force EPA to close its network of regional libraries. These libraries play an important role in informing the public, and their closure would be another example of this Administration’s disturbing trend of blocking access to public information. Mr. Chairman, I ask that this document, a 2004 EPA review which points to the overwhelming cost benefits of the library system, be placed in the record. From my perspective, it is critical that the head of EPA’s Office of Environmental Information be committed to preserving the public’s right-to-know about environmental conditions in their communities. I look forward to exploring your views on this issue and learning, in particular, whether you support the Administration’s proposals.