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Hearing of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health


Location: Washington, DC

Hearing of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health

The following is a transcript of Senator Clinton's opening remarks at today's hearing:

SENATOR CLINTON: The Superfund program is such an important part of our environmental protection system in our country and I think this is a very significant opportunity to discuss what it is doing and what more it could do.

Superfund has its roots in New York, stemming from the discovery in 1978 by Niagara Falls resident Lois Gibbs that her neighborhood known as "Love Canal" had been built on a massive chemical dump. The effects of that chemical dump had been seen but not understood for years and the impact on the people who live there was tragic. Love Canal became a national story and helped spur Congress to enact the Superfund law, which was signed by President Carter in December of 1980.

The Love Canal site was finally taken off of the Superfund's national priority's list in 2004, but 1,246 sites across the country remain on Superfund list today including 86 in New York alone. So as we approach this 30 year anniversary of Love Canal, the Superfund site remains vitally important, because it reminds of us of why we went down this path and the importance is underscored by a report issued last year by the Center for American Progress and the Center for Progressive Reform. That report profiled fifty of the most dangerous sites still on the Superfund list and scattered across ten states.

We will hear more about that report later in the hearing but I want to highlight a couple of its findings. First, most of the fifty sites are located in heavily populated areas. Second, many have been on the list for decades. Third, they contain a range of highly toxic chemicals such as PCBs, creosote, lead, arsenic, mercury, and TCE.

Sixty percent are located in neighborhoods where households reported median incomes in the range of $40,000, and some 26 percent were in the midst of populations comprised of 40 percent or more of racial or ethnic minorities. So, this is both an environmental health issue and an environmental justice issue. That's why I am dismayed by the Bush Administration's handling of this program.

The number of cleanups has fallen dramatically from the average of about 75 sites per year from 1993 to 2000 to an average of fewer than 40 sites per year under this administration.

In Fiscal Year 2007, only 24 cleanups were completed. When we've asked the administration to explain this sharp drop in cleanups, they claim it is due to greater complexity of the sites left to be cleaned. I don't accept that point, but even if you take it at face value, it raises another important question. Why won't the administration therefore ask for more money to get the program back on track to deal with the allegedly more complex sites?

When asked that question, the administration has tied itself into knots defending the absurd position that more money would not help all that much. And they have been extremely secretive about this project, keeping information from the public, and stonewalling this committee.

Chairman Boxer submitted a series of questions and I am delighted that she is here because she submitted those questions to the EPA about Superfund five months ago. On Monday -- two days before this oversight hearing -- she received a stack of documents in response. All but three of the documents were marked "privileged."

That is just simply unacceptable. What does the administration have to hide? I thought we were all in this together.

I hope we can get beyond this pattern today. The administration can keep repeating "mission accomplished," but the Superfund program does not square up with reality.

There are 11 superfund sites where human exposure to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals is not under control. There are 111 of those sites, because seven of them are in New York alone. In addition, EPA indicates that there are 160 other sites where EPA has insufficient information to determine whether human exposure to these toxic chemicals is under control.

I will be pressing EPA today to explain their plans to get these sites under control and explore the reasons for the slow down in cleanups. I think it's clear that this program needs additional funding, I think reinstating the "polluter pays" fee is a step we must take, both to provide additional funds for the cleanups and to make to make the program fairer.

Ordinary taxpayers should not pay for cleanups and that's what has been happening at orphan sites for the last four years. So we have a lot of ground to cover today and I want to turn now to Ranking Member Senator Barrasso.

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