Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords, I-Vt.
EPW Subcommittee on Superfund and Waste Management
Updated Contractor Liability and Environmental Laws
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this oversight hearing on government contractor liability proposals related to Hurricane Katrina. I am greatly concerned for the people who have been affected by our nation’s largest natural disaster, and I will do everything in my power to help them get back on their feet. As a nation, our focus should be on rebuilding the Gulf Coast so that residents can safely return to their homes and get on with their lives. Last month, I joined with Democratic members of this committee to introduce S. 1836, the “Gulf Coast Infrastructure Redevelopment and Recovery Act of 2005.” This legislation would ensure a more coordinated rebuilding effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The bill sets up a federal task force to coordinate Katrina response efforts among agencies. It establishes National Preparedness Grants, and would work to fix the needless and catastrophic problems we saw emerge in our nation’s emergency response plans. Our bill also establishes a National Levee Safety Program, and requires the EPA to develop a comprehensive sampling plan for hazardous substances that may threaten human health or the environment. Recent press reports indicate that the levees in New Orleans may have failed because of faulty construction practices by government contractors. We must ensure that the rebuilding of the levees, and the Gulf Coast Region, is done by competent contractors who adhere to the law. Any legislation that would limit the liability of contractors who assist federal or state governments with relief and construction efforts in this region is a bad idea. Now more than ever, our government’s role should be to ensure that its citizens are protected from faulty clean-up efforts. With all that is going on in their lives, the people of the Gulf Coast should not have to worry about contaminated drinking water, hazardous waste exposure, destruction of property, personal injury or even death. These citizens have already suffered a tremendous loss that will take many years to get over. To limit their legal remedies at a time like this is unconscionable. Simply put, we must not provide corporations with liability shields and exemption from environmental regulation at the expense of the Gulf Coast residents. The rush to clean up from Katrina is not a rationale for allowing contractor negligence. Given that some Katrina contractors are greatly benefiting from no-bid contracts, we should be extra vigilant to see that it is done right. These contractors and corporations do not deserve special treatment at the expense of those who have lost their family members, homes, and jobs.