EPW Hearing Statement: Cleaning up our nation’s Cold War legacy sites

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Cleaning up our nation’s Cold War legacy sites.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. Today, we’ll see why simply sending barely adequate funding to the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers for cleanup of contaminated DOD sites is not enough.  Instead, we must fund these agencies to the fullest extent possible. We’ll discuss the status of cleanup projects at Cold War legacy sites under three different programs: the Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program, the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund). 

“During the past 200 years, a number of activities that support our country’s military readiness have resulted in the need for environmental cleanup.  These sites, located in every state, were used for a variety of purposes: training and supporting soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines, as well as testing new weapons, warfare capabilities and energy technologies. The people who worked at these facilities helped to develop the nuclear weapons that ended World War II, the missiles that kept the Soviets at bay, and the rockets that sent men to the moon. They often toiled away in secret, on the cutting edge of chemistry, nuclear physics and missile engineering.  The legacy they left us, though, is one of technological might. 

“But it is also a legacy that came at a high environmental price. Many of these sites were operated at a time when awareness about environmental health and safety paled in comparison to what it is today.  The Hanford Nuclear Reservation site in Washington was contaminated — not just by radioactive materials but, also, by toxic chemicals. The site was contaminated by substances like carbon tetrachloride, which causes liver, kidney and nervous system damage; chromium compounds, which cause cancer and other serious health impacts; as well as other substances that were not well catalogued or properly disposed of. Contamination at the Atlas Missile site in Wyoming included levels of cancer-causing trichloroethylene that were so high that nearby residents needed to be provided with bottled water and have special filters installed on their drinking water wells. Thousands of sites across the country need some form of remediation before they are safe to be re-used.  We owe it to the patriots who worked at these sites, and to the communities of people who now live and work near them, to remove the health, environmental and safety risks these sites pose.

“I believe in Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy that the role of government is to do for the people what they cannot do for themselves.  This philosophy is especially applicable to the cleanup of these sites, since no cleanup would have been needed had our government not needed the weapons and technology that were developed there. 

“There are thousands of Formerly Utilized Defense Sites and former Department of Energy sites whose cleanups the Army Corps funds, and there are a number of federally-owned facilities that have been designated Superfund sites whose cleanups are overseen by EPA. The need for funding always exceeds the amount of money Congress provides because each cleanup poses unique challenges and takes anywhere from several years to several decades to complete. Cleaning these sites up has always been a challenge. But these sites – and the people who live and work near them – face even greater challenges now, because the President’s 2018 ‘skinny’ budget decimates the EPA with a 31 percent budget cut and cuts funding for the Corps by a billion dollars, or roughly 17 percent, as well.  EPA’s Superfund program has been cut by 30 percent, and although EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told this Committee that ‘the EPA needs to provide more assistance to the states,’ the President’s fiscal year 2018 budget slashes State environmental grants by a staggering 45 percent, or $482 million dollars.

“Cuts of this magnitude are going to force the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize and eliminate programs and projects in the coming year. That will slow or delay cleanups, jeopardizing the health and safety of the people who live and work near these contaminated sites, and irresponsibly abdicate this country’s obligation to remedy the environmental legacy of the Cold War. We look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about the impacts this so-called ‘skinny budget’ will have on their ability to carry out their federal responsibilities, and what the proposed cuts could mean for contaminated sites in our home states. And I earnestly hope to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to take a critical look at President Trump’s budget proposal and work to ensure that these ill-advised cuts are not agreed to.

“Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and thank them for joining us.”