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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions Received During Recess

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



S. 2656. A bill to prohibit the transport of hydrolysate from the Pueblo Chemical Depot, Colorado, to an off-site location; to the Committee on Armed Services under authority of the order of the Senate of 02/14/2008.

Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation that will help us achieve swift and safe destruction of the chemical weapons stored at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado. Congressman John Salazar and Congressman Mark Udall are introducing similar legislation today in the House.

The Pueblo Chemical Depot is home to 780,000 munitions filled with over 2,600 tons of liquid mustard agent--around 8.5 percent of the original U.S. chemical stockpile. The munitions sit in 96 high security igloos as they await disassembly and destruction.

The congressionally ratified Chemical Weapons Convention mandates that these munitions be destroyed by 2012. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense is woefully behind in fulfilling its responsibilities because it consistently underfunds a program that is essential to our national security and to the safety of nearby communities.

Every year we have to fight to put money back into the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, ACWA, program, the authority that is overseeing the destruction operation at Pueblo and at the Blue Grass Army Depot, in Kentucky. But, thanks to Congressional intervention, we have succeeded in getting the program moving. Last year Congress allocated over $400 million for weapons destruction at the Pueblo Chemical Depot and the Blue Grass Army Depot. I want to thank Chairman Levin and Ranking Member McCain of the Armed Services Committee, Chairman Inouye and Ranking Member Stevens of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and Chairman Dorgan and Ranking Member Hutchison of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee for all their help.

If you visit the Pueblo Chemical Depot today, you will see that contractors have begun to lay the utilities and foundations for the processing facility that will treat the agent. And you will see that they have begun construction of the biotreatment facility, which will treat the hydrolysate that is the byproduct of the mustard neutralization process. It is a welcome sight to finally see earth moving. In addition to the funding that Congress restored in fiscal year 2008 for chemical weapons destruction, we also passed legislation to set a hard deadline of 2017 for the Department of Defense to complete all chemical weapons destruction activities.

It is no secret that DOD is going to miss the 2012 treaty deadline for weapons destruction at Pueblo. That's what happens when you drag your feet and fail to put adequate resources behind a program. But the law we passed last year says that even if they miss the 2012 deadline, the Department of Defense shall complete work on the destruction of the entire stockpile of lethal chemical agents and munitions absolutely no later than 2017. Every six months, the department has to report to Congress on the progress they are making, what resources are needed, and how much funding is programmed to fulfill this requirement.

For those of us who have been fighting this fight for the Pueblo site, the hard deadline of 2017 is a dramatic improvement. At the pace that we were moving under administration's funding projections last year, destruction activities there were expected to be completed sometime in 2021. 2021.

This is absurd, especially with DOD's own admission that with higher funding levels they could complete destruction at Pueblo a full five years earlier than that.

I am proud that this 2017 deadline has been signed into law and I look forward to working with the Department of Defense to ensure that the U.S. Government meets this legal obligation.

Unfortunately, we still have more work to do to see that these chemical weapons are destroyed as swiftly and safely as possible. For one thing, we will have to continue to hold DOD's feet to the fire to ensure that they are devoting adequate resources to chemical weapons destruction.

We will also have to work to help make the chemical weapons destruction process proceed as smoothly, safely, and expeditiously as possible. This means watching to make sure that DOD does not get bogged down in bureaucracy or red tape that could cause delays.

There is a real danger of this at the Pueblo Site, where the Department of Defense is yet again studying whether it should ship hydrolysate, a byproduct of neutralizing mustard agent, to an off-site location for destruction. Hydrolysate is a hazardous waste that must be subjected to a biotreatment process to make it non-hazardous.

At Pueblo, they have already begun construction of an on site biotreatment facility to neutralize the hydrolysate. This is great news. It is the simplest solution and, according to two recent studies, the fastest way to treat all the hydrolysate.

These two studies, completed in 2007, both concluded that shipping hydrolysate off-site would yield few, if any, cost-savings and would likely result in litigation, strong public opposition, and potential delays to chemical weapons destruction. An analysis conducted by Mitretek found that ``a decision for off-site treatment will probably result in litigation of the CD at Pueblo, resulting in extensive delays. Every month of delay costs roughly $15-$16 million. Any delay over 6 months, regardless of cause, would be expected to erase all possible savings, even under the most optimistic assumptions.''

The report by Lean Six Sigma concluded that off-site destruction would actually cost more and could result in as much as a five-year delay in chemical weapons destruction at Pueblo.

Given the conclusions of these recent studies on hydrolysate destruction, I am perplexed that the Department is conducting yet another study on the potential cost savings of hydrolysate destruction. It is unclear to me what questions remain unanswered. These studies clearly show that shipping hydrolysate off-site raises risks of permitting delays or litigation. With a 2017 deadline to meet, the Department of Defense can't afford a permitting delay that sets the project off course.

The bill I am introducing today is very simple. It prohibits the Secretary of Defense from shipping hydrolysate at the Pueblo Chemical Depot off-site for treatment. This will ensure that DOD can continue to proceed on its current path toward treating hydrolysate on-site. It will help the U.S. Government meet its legal obligation to complete chemical weapons destruction by 2017. And it will provide some certainty to the communities that have waited so long for these chemical weapons to be safely destroyed.

We need to put this potentially costly and dilatory issue behind us and proceed with the safe and swift destruction of our Nation's stockpile of chemical weapons.

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