Rounds Delivers Opening Statement at EPW Subcommittee Hearing on Natural Disaster Clean Ups
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight, today delivered his opening statement at a hearing entitled “Challenges Facing Superfund and Waste Cleanup Efforts Following Natural Disasters.”
“Today this subcommittee will conduct a review of the response, remediation and recovery challenges faced by states and public officials tasked with securing superfund sites and managing waste debris in the aftermath of these natural disasters,” said Rounds in his opening remarks. “Our goal today is to conduct oversight on the agency coordination among federal, state, and local officials following these destructive events. We will also hear about the preparations that were made to secure superfund sites in advance of these natural disasters occurring, and hear suggestions on how the planning and preparation for natural disasters can be improved.”
Rounds’ remarks as prepared for delivery:
The Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight is meeting today to conduct a hearing entitled “Challenges Facing Superfund and Waste Cleanup Efforts Following Natural Disasters.”
In the past four months, three major hurricanes brought record-setting flooding and rainfall in Texas, the Gulf Region, and the Caribbean.
They also threatened the dozens of contaminated superfund sites that were located in their path.
Further, in October, deadly wildfires scorched over 245,000 acres in California.
These wildfires left an estimated $85 billion dollars of economic damage in their wake.
This hearing is especially appropriate today as California again finds itself facing wildfires in Southern California.
These ongoing fires have forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Natural disasters such as these not only cause loss of life, but also billions of dollars in damage to the economy, infrastructure, and homes.
They also have the potential to expose communities and the environment to hazardous chemicals stemming from contaminated superfund sites that could be damaged by the storm.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, also known as CERCLA, was created to manage hazardous substances and to respond to environmental emergencies, spills, and natural disasters.
As the lead agency, the EPA coordinates cleanups, hazardous waste management, and emergency responses with various other federal agencies, such as FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps, as well as state and local officials.
Throughout Hurricane Harvey, the EPA worked with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to secure dozens of superfund sites in the Houston area and monitor for potential leaks from the sites.
Following the hurricane, the EPA used aerial imaging to conduct assessments of these sites but state and federal officials faced significant challenges in accessing these sites for testing.
Of the thirteen sites the EPA identified as being possibly damaged, only two were immediately accessible for sampling.
The remaining eleven were inaccessible due to flood waters, requiring officials to wait until the waters receded before the sites could be evaluated.
Shortly after Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma threatened 22 current or former National Priority List sites within Florida’s southernmost 100 miles.
In anticipation of the hurricane, technical staff in the EPA Region 4 office reviewed sites to secure any potential vulnerabilities and many of these sites remained secure after Irma made landfall.
Two weeks later, as Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a category 4 storm, nineteen superfund sites were at risk.
Of these, five sites in Puerto Rico were deemed especially hazardous to human health and the environment.
Today, nearly two and a half months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, the relief and remediation effort in Puerto Rico is ongoing.
In addition to these deadly hurricanes, throughout the month of October, California experienced some of the deadliest wildfires in its history.
These wildfires necessitated a federal cleanup effort that involved hundreds of EPA staff and a weeks-long effort to remove thousands of hazardous waste products, largely consisting of household chemical products, from the area.
Today this subcommittee will conduct a review of the response, remediation and recovery challenges faced by states and public officials tasked with securing superfund sites and managing waste debris in the aftermath of these natural disasters.
Our goal today is to conduct oversight on the agency coordination among federal, state, and local officials following these destructive events.
We will also hear about the preparations that were made to secure superfund sites in advance of these natural disasters occurring, and hear suggestions on how the planning and preparation for natural disasters can be improved.
In general, CERCLA provides substantial discretion to the EPA to expand requirements for disaster planning and post-disaster response.
But while CERCLA does provide the EPA with flexibility in disaster planning and remedial actions, there are few statutory requirements for proactive disaster planning and response.
I am hopeful that today’s hearing will provide suggestions for improvement to disaster planning and post-disaster response so we can make certain that in the event of a natural disaster, these sites remain secure and pose no threat to the surrounding communities and environment.
I’d like to thank our witnesses for being here today and I look forward to hearing your testimony.