News Releases

Murray to Whitman: Don't Ignore Northwest Needs

Mar 21 2002

Senator concerned about Coeur d'Alene Basin, Superfund, Asarco

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Following a Tuesday night phone call with Christine Todd Whitman, Sen. Patty Murray today sent a letter to the EPA Administrator to express her concerns with the EPA's oversight of several Northwest environmental issues.

Murray urged Whitman to issue the final Record of Decision (ROD) on the Coeur d'Alene Basin as scheduled this summer. The Senator is opposed to additional delays in finalizing the cleanup plan, which will reduce contaminated water and sediments flowing into Washington state from Idaho via the Spokane River. She stressed that this regional problem requires a regional solution -- led by EPA and with input from Idaho and Washington stakeholders.

Murray pointed out that she strongly disagrees with the Bush Administration's position that taxpayers, rather than polluters, should pay for Superfund. Murray has stated she believes that industry, instead of taxpayers, should pay to restore the diminishing fund.

Murray raised the issue of Asarco's precarious financial situation, its impact on the cleanup of the Superfund site in Tacoma, and the recent delay in the cleanup schedule. She supports increased funding for Superfund so that EPA may pursue a more aggressive cleanup schedule.

Finally, Murray expressed her concerns about the Libby, Montana Superfund site, and encouraged the EPA to continue targeting the W.R. Grace mine cleanup as a high priority. Murray asked what EPA plans to do nationally to protect consumers and workers from asbestos exposure in consumer products, such as insulation made with vermiculite from the Libby mine.

A copy of Sen. Murray's letter to Administrator Whitman is attached.


March 21, 2002

The Honorable Christine Todd Whitman
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20460-0001

Dear Administrator Whitman:

Thank you for making time on Tuesday to speak with me about several issues currently facing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As I mentioned during our conversation, I would have liked to have heard your testimony and to have raised these issues at yesterday's hearing that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for VA-HUD and Independent Agencies conducted on the EPA's proposed fiscal year 2003 budget. Unfortunately, the Senate Budget Committee was meeting at the same time. However, I am still planning to submit follow up questions, which the Subcommittee will forward to you.

As I noted when we spoke, I strongly support the EPA moving forward to issue the final Record of Decision (ROD) for the Coeur d'Alene Basin this summer as planned. While I do not oppose the National Academy of Sciences conducting a study on EPA's science justifying the ROD, this study should not cause additional delays in starting removal and remedial actions in the Basin. The NAS study can be conducted concurrently with beginning to implement the ROD, which outlines remediation plans for the next 20 to 30 years.

The final ROD for the Coeur d'Alene Basin has already been delayed, and water and sediments contaminated with lead, arsenic and other heavy metals are still flowing into Washington state from Idaho via the Spokane River. Given the regional nature of this problem, I support a regional solution – led by EPA and with continued input from local communities, local governments, state agencies, environmental organizations, economic development entities, Native American tribes and the public from both states. I would appreciate receiving a detailed update from EPA on the agency's current time frame for issuing this final ROD.

I am also very concerned about the Administration's position that taxpayers rather than polluters should pay to restore the diminishing Superfund. According to the Administration's fiscal year 2003 budget justification, EPA "...has cleanup construction underway or has completed 92 percent of the 1,479 sites on the final NPL."

I believe that, for the most part, the Superfund program has worked well. As you know, the principle that industry and polluters should pay for cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites is central to this program, but the lapse in the Superfund tax has meant taxpayers are increasingly responsible for restoring the fund. I sincerely hope the Administration will reconsider its decision to oppose reinstating the Superfund tax on the chemical and petroleum industries. I look forward to getting an update on the Administration's position on this issue next month when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds an oversight hearing on the Superfund program.

I will continue to work to ensure the EPA receives the funding it needs to clean up Superfund sites at an aggressive pace. I am especially worried about the implications that Asarco's precarious financial situation will have for several Superfund sites in Washington state. At the former Asarco smelter site in Tacoma, Asarco had planned to invest approximately $30 million a year to clean up the site and surrounding properties. Now the cleanup schedule has been significantly delayed. I understand that should the company declare bankruptcy, it would be difficult for the EPA to resume cleanup activities at the same pace that Asarco had planned. The annual Superfund remedial action budget for all of Region 10 has ranged from between $10 million to $60 million, depending on how the Region competes for funds nationally. I support increases for Superfund included in the Senate Budget Committee's resolution, and I will also support increases for Superfund through the appropriations process later this year.

As you know, the EPA recently declared the town of Libby, Montana to be a Superfund site because of contamination caused by asbestos in vermiculite from the W.R. Grace mine that operated there for decades. I am continuing to follow EPA's progress on dealing with this public health crisis, and on addressing the broader questions about asbestos that this tragedy has raised. I hope this remains a high priority at EPA. I am especially concerned about reports that consumers and workers are being exposed to asbestos in insulation made with vermiculite from Libby, and would like to know what EPA plans to do nationally to protect consumers and workers from this exposure. As you may know, many of the victims from Libby now reside in Spokane, Washington, which is also home to a plant which processed vermiculite from Libby for many years. I appreciate your commitment to addressing this issue.

Thank you again listening attentively to the concerns I expressed during our conversation. I look forward to working closely with you and your staff on these issues of great interest to me and my constituents.


Patty Murray
United States Senator

cc: The Honorable James Jeffords
Mr. John Iani, EPA Region 10 Administrator