Opening Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
Environment and Public Works Committee
Superfund and Environmental Health Subcommittee
Hearing entitled: "Oversight Hearing on the Federal Superfund Program’s Activities to Protect Public Health"
October 17, 2007
Remarks as prepared for delivery
I would like to thank Senator Clinton for holding this hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency's management of the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program. Superfund is critically important to protecting the health of children and families who live in communities across our country.
One in four people in America lives within four miles of a Superfund site, including 10 million children. Superfund sites are among the most contaminated toxic waste sites in the country.
They are polluted with dangerous, toxic substances, including lead, arsenic, and mercury, which are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and harm the nervous system.
Superfund was created to address these threats. We made great strides in protecting communities by cleaning up sites in the 1990s. Unfortunately, in the past several years the pace of listing toxic waste sites for cleanup, and of actually cleaning up these sites, has slowed to nearly a crawl.
As we have heard from Senator Clinton, cleanups have dropped by at least fifty percent, from 80 waste sites cleaned up per year down to 40. And, this year, EPA couldn't even meet its own goal of cleaning up 40 toxic waste sites.
Instead, EPA now says it expects to cleanup only 24 sites - that's a drop from 80 cleanups a year down to 24. This is simply unacceptable.
EPA has also listed far fewer sites for long-term cleanups under the program. The number of sites listed has dropped from 30 per year to 17 per year - a 56 percent decline.
Based upon EPA's own documents, and studies by outside experts, EPA is likely failing to list many toxic waste sites for cleanup that are posing health and environmental risks.
The agency has also failed to quickly address sites at which human exposure is not under control. There are at least 111 of these sites, according data from earlier this year.
In addition, EPA hasn't even collected enough information to determine whether human exposure is under control at 160 other Superfund sites. These figures are alarming and telling.
More must be done.
In an effort to determine if EPA could do more work with more money, earlier this year I asked a series of questions about EPA's management of the program.
In the last few days EPA delivered a response, a large volume of paper - the vast majority of which is stamped "privileged."
This is unacceptable. I have to ask: since when does EPA have the right to withhold important information about toxic waste sites and cleanup from families whose health may be at risk from living near those sites?
Superfund in one of our landmark environmental laws. It has resulted in the cleanup and helped to protect the health of millions of Americans who live near toxic waste sites. It is the best and clearest example we have of ensuring that polluters pay for the messes they make, and that the public has a right to know about the toxic risks they face.
I will not stand by while this crucial environmental law is undermined. I will work with Senator Clinton to follow up on this hearing, and will carefully review the large volume of so-called privileged information the agency has provided. I anticipate that we will have to hold additional hearings to get to the bottom of these issues.