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U.S. Senator Booker Chairs First EPW Oversight Subcommittee Hearing on Superfund Sites

June 10, 2014

Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) today held his first hearing as chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight within the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The hearing focused on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund program, which cleans up extremely contaminated properties. During the hearing, entitled "Protecting Taxpayers and Ensuring Accountability: Faster Superfund Cleanups for Healthier Communities,” Senator Booker heard testimony from two officials from the EPA, as well as experts in the field and community leaders.

The Superfund program cleans up extremely contaminated properties either by forcing the responsible parties to clean-up the contamination or by using government resources to clean up the property. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the EPA does not have adequate resources to clean up the more than 1,300 sites on the EPA’s list of most polluted sites, including 89 that have “unacceptable human exposure” to substances that can cause birth defects, cancers, and developmental disorders. Today, New Jersey has 114 sites on the Superfund National Priorities List, the most sites in any state.

The hearing today follows a press event Senator Booker held at Syncon Resins Superfund Site in Kearny, New Jersey to highlight the importance of the EPA’s Superfund program and to announce legislation to reinstate the Polluter Pays measure.

The following individuals testified at today’s hearing: Barry N. Breen, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Environmental Protection Agency; Judith A. Enck, Region 2 Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency; The Honorable Joseph Delaney, Mayor, City of Garfield, NJ; Lois Gibbs, Executive Director, Center for Health, Environment & Justice; Robert Spiegel, Executive Director, Edison Wetlands Association; Susan Bodine, Partner, Barns & Thornburg; and Scott Thompson, Executive Director, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

Senator Booker’s Opening Statement

Good afternoon. This hearing of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight will come to order.

On behalf of Ranking Member Inhofe and members of the Subcommittee: welcome to our witnesses and thanks to several of you for traveling a long distance to testify today.

Across our country, we have far too many un-remediated, dangerous Superfund sites sitting in our neighborhoods - properties that are literally poisoning our residents.

This problem is particularly acute in my state of New Jersey, which is both the most densely populated state and the state with the most Superfund sites.

Superfund sites on the National Priority List are the most heavily contaminated properties in the country – and the sites that pose the greatest potential risk to public health and the environment. These sites endanger the health of our children, and thwart economic development in our communities.

Our purpose today is to look at the impacts these contaminated sites are having in our communities, to look at ways to speed up the cleanup process, and to look at options for how to bring desperately needed additional funding to the Superfund program.

As Mayor of Newark, I saw first-hand the devastating impacts that Superfund sites can have on a community.

When not cleaned up, contaminated properties are blights in our neighborhoods. But when we clean these sites up, we see opportunities for job creation, for new tax revenues, and for healthier communities.

It has been estimated that 11 million Americans live within 1 mile of a Superfund site and of that, 3 to 4 million are children. Let me repeat that – between 3 to 4 million children in the U.S. live within 1 mile of a Superfund site.

And now let me tell you another statistic – a chilling statistic. Researchers at Princeton, MIT and Berkeley, after reviewing hundreds of thousands of birth records, found that babies born to mothers living within 1 mile of a Superfund site prior to site cleanup had a 20 percent greater incidence of being born with birth defects.

Let me repeat that: 20 percent more babies were born with congenital anomalies, like heart defects and down syndrome, prior to a Superfund site being cleaned up.

And this study is not alone. For example, a 2009 peer reviewed research paper concluded that autism rates were substantially higher for children within 10 miles of a Superfund site.

This is alarming and un-acceptable.

Nationwide, there are hundreds of Superfund sites that are on the National Priority List where remediation has not even begun.

And there are hundreds more sites on the List where remediation is ongoing – but too often at a pace that is slowed by insufficient funding.

Our appropriated funding in 2013 and 2014 for the Superfund program is at the lowest levels of funding in over 25 years. Adjusted for inflation, we are currently funding the Superfund program at 40% of 1987 levels. From 1992 to 2000 an average of 80 Superfund cleanups were completed each year; in 2013 just 14 were completed.

In 2010, G-A-O issued a report which found that current funding levels would likely not be sufficient to meet the future needs of the Superfund program. Based upon EPA officials’ estimates of future program costs, G-A-O found that the future funding need will be 2 to 2.5 times greater than funds appropriated annually for the program over the past decade.

And from the time of that GAO report until today, things have only gotten worse. Funding has dropped an additional 17%, while more sites have been added to the National Priorities List.

Today, Senator Boxer and I are requesting that G-A-O update their 2010 report.

And this week, along with Senator Menendez, my colleague from New Jersey, we will be introducing the Superfund Polluter Pays Restoration Act of 2014. This bill would reinstate the excise tax on polluting industries in order to provide funding for Superfund cleanups.

Today I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, and I look forward to working with Senators on both sides of the aisle moving forward to address these serious issues.

Before hearing from our witnesses, I will turn to other members of the Committee for their opening statements, beginning with Ranking Member Inhofe.