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Hearing of the Senate Natural Energy and Resources Committee - National Landslide Assessment


Location: Washington, DC

Senator Cantwell: Dr. Kimball… I wanted to ask you specifically about landslides and a recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences that the USGS publish a landslide hazard mitigation strategy. That was something that was recommended but never received funding. So do you think we need to do that plan?

Dr. Suzette Kimball: I know our USGS employees feel very strongly about landslide work. I think we do need to continue. We do have a strategic plan for natural hazards within USGS. I think looking at that national plan is going to be important. We have additional funds that we are planning to use for a national assessment of landslide-prone areas, and ultimately, to look at the kinds of precipitation events that would trigger landslides and debris flow.

Cantwell: I think you can realize where I am coming from after the Oso/Darrington mudslide that not enough is being done. So you are committed to doing a plan and understand that we now have an increased risk? The change in climate is causing rainfall records that people never anticipated, so it's putting these risks in a higher area. This LIDAR -- Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging -- is really essential.

Kimball: Yes, Senator. I recognize that and we are committed to going forward with comprehensive LIDAR surveys. If confirmed, I will definitely be working with you and other members of the committee to realize this.

Senator Cantwell: Thank you, thank you very much. Mr. Lopez, we had a chance to talk about the Yakima Basin project in my office. You obviously get the significance of how everyone in the region is working together -- Native Americans, environmentalist, farmers, county commissioners -- it's almost as if they are giddy with pride at how well they are working together, which is juxtaposed with a lot of other water situations around the country. Yet the President's budget doesn't fully reflect what they are requesting for federal assistance. The state has already put up $137 million. Will you work to make sure we get the federal participation that is needed on this project?

Mr. Estevan Lopez: Thank you for your question, Senator Cantwell. I also want to thank you for the opportunity to visit with you a few days ago. The discussion we had regarding the Yakima Basin integrated plan meeting was demonstrative of the sorts of thing you can do when you get everybody together in collaborative processes and bring everybody along and make sure there is a common understanding of the goals. Quite often, it yields win-win type situations. I commend you and all of the participants in this project. It's an outstanding example of the value of those sorts of processes. I recognize that funding on the federal side has been insufficient. I do commit that we would work with you if confirmed to try to assure that the federal government can contribute its fair share.

Cantwell: And, Dr. Regalbuto. Thank you for willingness to serve. We've certainly worked with many of your predecessors. This issue of chemical vapor exposures to Hanford workers is unacceptable. In the last two months, 28 people have become sick or been exposed to these vapors. And workers have asked for better access to personal protective equipment. What will you do as secretary to increase worker safety at tank farms? And what will you do to make sure workers who suffer radioactive exposure have their medical claims addressed?

Dr. Monica Regalbuto: Thank you for your question, Senator Cantwell. I share your concern regarding the vapor exposure to 28 workers. No worker should be exposed. I understand the Savannah River National Laboratory is conducting an independent study to assess what is the source of those exposures. I myself am a rad worker. So I suit up and put on a respirator at work. I certainly recognize it is a complex job once you are fully suited, and the workers do deserve the best protection equipment that is available and access to their records, because their records are theirs. If confirmed, I do not know the very specifics right now of this situation. But if confirmed, I look forward to fully addressing this issue and working with you and your staff on this issue.

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