|From:||Lenny Siegel <email@example.com>|
|Date:||Fri, 19 May 1995 00:10:55 -0700 (PDT)|
|Subject:||LENNY'S TESTIMONY - SEN. ENVIRO CTE|
The following is the written version of my testimony before the Superfund Subcommittee of the Senate Enviroment Committee last week. I hope that other participants in the newsgroup will feel free to post other testimony before public bodies, as well to offer comments on my own statements. Lenny Siegel THIS IS A LONG FILE!!! STATEMENT OF LENNY SIEGEL BEFORE THE U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 9, 1995 My name is Lenny Siegel and I am a neighbor of Moffett Field, California. Through my position at San Francisco State University, I work with community groups, across the country, concerned about the impact of military hazardous waste contamination on the health of their families, the integrity of their natural environment, and particularly where bases are closing or downsizing, their economic future. Six years ago, when I first examined the progress of cleanup at federal facilities, I found a gridlock of competing goals and widespread mistrust. Though there is room for improvement, now the polluting agencies, regulators, and other stakeholders are more often than not working together toward a common objective, environmental restoration. Unfortunately, today that cooperation is threatened by the hesitancy of the federal government to meet obligations that it incurred when it released hazardous substances into the environment. Instead of slashing cleanup budgets and gutting environmental statutes, Congress can support efforts already underway to make cleanup better, faster, cheaper, and safer. Here are nine of the most important statements that Congress can make regarding the cleanup of federal facilities. As I see it, the cleanup challenge at Defense facilities does not require an overhaul of federal legislation governing the cleanup of hazardous waste. 1. Provide stable funding for environmental restoration. 2. Strengthen local advisory boards to oversee federal cleanup. 3. Direct federal agencies to adopt open, flexible systems for allocating insufficient cleanup budgets. 4. Maintain reasonable cleanup standards. 5. Encourage streamlined oversight focused on real-world results, not deliverable documents. 6. Lead regulatory authority should be transferred to state agencies only when they can demonstrate the will and the capacity to do the job. 7. Treat munitions impact ranges as hazardous waste sites. 8. Don't let "non-stockpile" chemical munitions leak through bureaucratic cracks. 9. Drain, contain, and neutralize chemical munitions, instead of building incinerators, and use the savings for cleanup. 1. Provide stable funding for environmental restoration. Congress should establish a mechanism to assure the public and our state governments that the federal government is prepared to meet its environmental obligations. One such approach would be the Defense Department's proposal to annualize the cost of cleanup. That is, estimate the long-term cost of cleanup. Set a goal for program completion, for both active and closing bases. And provide steady budgets to meet those goals. In the current fiscal climate, I expect cleanup programs to absorb their fair share of budget cutbacks, but recent, disproportionately large reductions suggest that Congress thinks the Federal government is above the law. In my community, in Silicon Valley, there are nearly thirty privately owned facilities on the "Superfund" National Priorities List. It would be extremely difficult to force responsible parties at those properties to meet their obligations if the Navy, which shares a massive underground plume of trichloroethylene with three of those sites, refused to pay for its own cleanup, because of Congressional budget decisions,. The notion that the federal agencies should escape environmental obligations is already undermining the military's central mission. In many parts of the country, communities are opposing the expansion of training areas because the government does not appear willing to take responsibility for environmental damage extant at current ranges. 2. Strengthen local advisory boards to oversee federal cleanup. As a member of the Federal Facilities Environmental Restoration Dialogue Committee, I have been one of the principal advocates of increased stakeholder involvement in federal facilities cleanup, through the formation and empowerment of site-specific advisory boards. I am pleased that both the Defense and Energy Departments are aggressively implementing those recommendations. I am most familiar with the Defense Department's Restoration Advisory Boards (RABs). At the vast majority of military installations where they have been formed, RABs have been an enormous success. Communities, long ignored by the armed services, are pleased to have increased access to information and channels for influencing decisions that affect their lives. Military officials, in turn, are surprised that most of their community critics are taking a constructive attitude. Perhaps most important, at many locations the sunshine cast by public participation is making it possible for regulatory agencies and the polluter to work as partners, not as potential courtroom adversaries. To be constructive, however, stakeholder involvement must be well informed. Last year Congress authorized funding for training and technical assistance for the community members of Restoration Advisory Boards, but that support has not yet materialized. I believe that the Defense Department needs at the very least a gentle push, or perhaps clarifying language, to expedite that assistance. I know from my experience with an EPA-fund independent technical consultant at Moffett Field that communities are more willing to consider innovative, cost-saving approaches to cleanup when they have access to their own trusted technical advisors. 3. Direct federal agencies to adopt open, flexible systems for allocating insufficient cleanup budgets. How can federal agencies meet cleanup obligations on limited budgets? They should not eliminate urgent projects essential to protecting public health and the environment. They should not ignore hazards as they spread - and become more costly to remediate. But they can establish systems for focusing funds where they are needed most, delaying - not abandoning - lower priority activities. To meet budgetary goals yet retain public confidence, priority-setting systems should be based upon the following principles. None of these requires statutory change. * Under the "Polluter pays" principle, the agency responsible for contamination should fund cleanup and set priorities within its own budget. * Regulatory agencies and public stakeholders should play key roles in establishing funding priorities. * To earn the support of people threatened by cleanup delays, Congress should promise stable cleanup funding within each agency. * Instead of ranking the relative risk of sites, government agencies and outside stakeholders should evaluate the risk reduction effectiveness of proposed activities. * Socioeconomic and cultural goals, sound management practices, and other factors - not just "risk" - should always be considered as part of a comprehensive priority-setting system. 4. Maintain reasonable cleanup standards. In some communities, either the armed services or development interests consider existing cleanup standards to be a barrier to reuse of contaminated property such as closing military bases or urban "brownfields." Nationally, key members of both Congress and the administration have suggested that current cleanup goals are too costly. They have proposed that restoration standards be based upon the intended reuse of the property. If facilities or land are expected to be used as airports or factories, they say cleanup should be incomplete. Current law already takes future property use into account in establishing cleanup standards. Taking it further would perpetuate pollution. In fact, weak cleanup standards not only threaten public health and the environment, but they are a barrier to conversion: * First, contamination at industrial sites may migrate, through the air, surface water, or groundwater, to adjacent areas. It's much easier to control such contamination early, before it spreads. Current law calls for the establishment of soil cleanup standards by conducting risk assessments based upon reuse, but groundwater standards are generally based upon drinking water pathways, which have nothing to do with reuse. Since groundwater standards, not soil standards, generally govern the extent of cleanup, it is not wise to seek savings in time or money by weakening standards. * Second, the new owner or lessor of the property becomes liable for contamination. This includes regulatory liability - that is, the owner or lessor may be forced to foot cleanup costs in the future - and tort liability, where third parties may sue for health or economic damage caused by the contamination. Though Federal law now contains provisions for indemnifying new users of military property for costs associated with military-caused contamination, the burden of proof lies on the new user to show that the military, not the new user, is responsible for the contamination. While this may not seem like much of a problem in the short run, in twenty or thirty years it may be difficult to establish responsibility for a plume of spilled jet fuel or a heavy metal hot spot, particularly if the new activity uses substances similar to those used or generated by the military. Thus, the local government that accepts property may be accepting an enormous economic risk. For this reason, banks are unlikely to finance and insurance companies are unlikely to insure projects on property which is not cleaned to a high standard. Thus, rushed deals that ignore environmental risk could backfire financially in the long run. Parenthetically, proposals to permit the non-federal transfer or indefinite leasing of contaminated federal property are likely to create similar problems. In promoting economic redevelopment, there is no substitute for a clean bill of health. * Third, communities needs flexibility in planning future land use. That is, if cleanup is limited to "industrial" standards because the expected short-term use is industrial, then the community is committed to such a use indefinitely. The Department of Defense will not return to an industrial park or airport in twenty or thirty years to do further cleanup just because local decision-makers decide to build housing or a college on the site. Weaker standards will not mean "clean to re-use." They will force "re-use to accommodate contamination." For example, at Moffett Field the community organizations in which I participate have insisted that substantial areas be cleaned to residential standards even though federal agencies continued to operate the airfield after the "closure" of the Naval Air Station. Recent events have proven the wisdom of our position. Now it looks like the Federal government may close the airfield, Our community could be saddled with an unwanted civilian airport if we allow the contamination to determine the future use. 5. Encourage streamlined oversight focused on real-world results, not deliverable documents. Across the country, there is a growing perception that hazardous waste cleanup programs, such as EPA's Superfund program or the federal facilities cleanups carried out under the same authorities, are bogged down in study. Congress, in fact, has asked the Defense Department to move more resources into actual remedial action, as opposed to continued study. The problem, however, is not with studies, per se. Sometimes they are necessary to ensure that remedial action reduces, rather than spreads risk, or that premature action does not increase long-term project costs. Yet from the volumes of documentation generated for each cleanup, it often seems that consultants or contractors are paid by the word, not for their contribution to the reduction of human or environmental risk. Unfortunately, the entire process of environmental restoration is organized around deliverable documents, not real world objectives. The typical milestones in a Federal Facilities Agreement, for example, refer to the completion of a remedial investigation or a remedial design, not the characterization of a plume or the removal of a risk. I propose, therefore, that project milestones define activities - such as characterizing contamination at a specific site or removing tanks - or objectives - such as achieving the desired reduction in groundwater contamination. At most federal facilities, this approach could be phased in without any statutory change. I see five principal advantages: * To communities, the press, and other non-specialists, real- world milestones would make cleanup much more easy to understand. I have seen many eyes glaze over at the sight of charts summarizing the completion of documentary cycles. * Real-world milestones - including activities and objectives - would provide better measures of project success. Delivery of a study proves nothing; but if that study thoroughly maps the spread of a contaminant of concern, then something has been accomplished. Contractors and officials could be evaluated not by the amount of paper they push, but by their contribution to the reduction of risk. * The production and review of documents is often a waste of time and resources. At minor sites or routine sites, contractors generate documents and regulators go through them with a fine- tooth comb because it's standard procedure. Obviously, a planning system that calls for documents when necessary, not just by routine, would be more efficient. For example, the Air Force Combat Command's Project on Streamlined Oversight, coordinated by Versar, Inc., is developing strategies for reducing unnecessary document flows. * By developing management plans based upon activities, not sites, agencies will make it easier to prioritize activities, as I have discussed above. That is, adopting real-world cleanup milestones would improve the picture of cleanup success while, more importantly, the improved process would make it easier to focus limited resources on real-world results. * At facilities where cleanup is expected to contribute to economic recovery or job training and employment, it's essential to have a public roadmap of the anticipated cleanup schedule. Building activities into a site management plan is a good way to give institutions that are supporting economic development or providing training advanced notice of work that is expected. Everyone must recognize that such a plan is predictive - it is not an invitation for bids - but it is the type of information that must be disseminated early if economic objectives are to be met. 6. Lead regulatory authority should be transferred to state agencies only when they can demonstrate the will and the capacity to do the job. I recognize that proposals to transfer lead authority over CERCLA cleanup regulation of federal facilities from the Environmental Protection Agency to its state counterparts have generated a great deal of friction among regulators. In fact, I work with capable, dedicated regulators on both sides of the issue. Because capability and independence vary from region to region and state to state, I don't think there is a simple, uniform solution. Rather, it should be pragmatic - based upon a public process in which it is determined that the state is indeed willing and able to take additional responsibility. * Authority should be transferred only on a facility-by-facility basis. This would permit states to assume leadership at high profile facilities where a great deal of attention is already being paid, but it would leave the bulk of serious, but lower profile facilities in the old system. * States petitioning the EPA Administrator for such authority should be required to demonstrate that they have the ability, the resources, and the will to carry out the full CERCLA program at the facility. * No such transfer of authority shall be carried out without full opportunity for the affected public to express its views, both through advisory boards - if established at the facility - and through widely publicized public hearings. * EPA should be directed (and funded) to provide the training and coordination necessary for state regulators to participate in national standardization schemes such as technology certification, presumptive remedies, and priority-setting. 7. Treat munitions impact ranges as hazardous waste sites. Measured by area, America's largest hazardous waste problem is not radioactive waste nor is it industrial toxics. Literally millions of acres of land and waterways are contaminated by ordnance - that is, munitions - and explosive wastes. The most immediate threat is unexploded ordnance, which tends to migrate to the surface under most geologic and climatic conditions. In addition, in the long run the corrosion, explosion, and combustion of munitions releases heavy metals and other hazardous substances into the environment. Some have suggested that we simply walk away from such sites - as the military has frequently done over the past several decades. Build a fence. Post a sign. And pretend it's a wildlife refuge. This may save money in the short run. At some locations it is a viable medium-term strategy. But it is no long-term solution. Particularly at closing and former bases, impact ranges should be considered what they are, hazardous waste sites. As soon as possible, threats to human health and the environment should be characterized. The public should be fully informed. Access should be carefully regulated. With currently proven technologies, it is technically unfeasible or prohibitively expensive to clean fully most impact ranges. In the long run it is too costly to our nation to consider such vast areas - of economic, environmental, and cultural value - permanently off limits. Congress, therefore, should support the Defense Department's efforts to develop and test new methods of investigation, range remediation, and demilitarization. 8. Don't let "non-stockpile" chemical munitions leak through bureaucratic cracks. If agents of a foreign government were to detonate lethal chemical weapons in populated areas of the United States, our armed forces would take swift military action. But what can we do to protect our citizens when our own military is responsible? By the Defense Department's own account, more than 200 sites in the United States may contain "non-stockpile" chemical munitions, old bombs buried underground or even lying on the surface. At some sites, such as the Aberdeen Proving Ground, in Maryland, concentrations of chemical munitions are found near homes and schools. The transportation and demilitarization - actual on-site detonation - of those munitions frequently put the public at risk, but emergency preparedness agencies are unprepared. Old chemical weapons pose a high risk to the public, but in many areas responsibility and cleanup funding are much harder to find than the shells themselves. Congress must direct the military to identify high-risk sites and make sure that funds are in the proper accounts to enable immediate protective action. 9. Drain, contain, and neutralize chemical munitions, instead of building incinerators, and use the savings for cleanup. The demilitarization and disposal of our country's aging stockpile of lethal chemical agent - "nerve gas" and "mustard gas" - is viewed by the public as an environmental cleanup issue, even though the government fits it into another pigeonhole. At all nine stockpile sites, community opposition to the Army's baseline technology of incineration is growing, but not nearly so fast as the Army's life-cycle cost estimate for the program - somewhere around $12 billion. The stockpile's neighbors do not consider incineration a safe disposal technology, but even if it were, it would be too costly. Once many of the people who live, work, and attend school near the stockpile sites simply took a NIMBY - "not in my back yard" - position, a stand most of us would have taken had it been our own backyards. Now, however, they propose an approach which not only would ease their fears, but which would reduce costs, meet arms control goals, and satisfy critical security needs. They have proposed that the Army move quickly to drain and contain chemical munitions, putting lethal agent into secure, monitored containers. Research into chemical neutralization, which already shows great promise, should be expanded, to provide for the eventual disposal of both stockpile and non-stockpile munitions. The prohibitively expensive, risky incineration program exists only because of the Army's inertia. It should be abandoned. Instead, the stockpile demilitarization budget should be spent on storage and security, reconfiguration - that is, to drain and contain lethal agent - and the development of alternatives. The remainder, which may amount to $250 million or more this year, should be made available, within the Defense budget, for environmental restoration. I recognize that cleanup funds are being cut primarily because many members of Congress believe that the funds are critically needed elsewhere, for readiness and weapons modernization. Diverting money from incineration would not threaten those programs. Instead, it would re-allocate "non- traditional" Defense expenditures from an unpopular, out of control program to environmental restoration, a relatively well managed program that works with the public, not against it. In conclusion, the neighbors and employees of military facilities are not looking for a blank check from the federal government. However, after years of literally being dumped upon by the institutions that are supposed to defend us, we are looking for environmental programs that we can trust. We are working hard to make sure that scarce resources are spent wisely, but we cannot accept proposals that sacrifice the safety of our families, the health of our natural environment, or our economic future. Over the last few years, communities that had been impacted by pollution from federal facilities have been working cooperatively with the polluters and regulatory agencies. We ask Congress to affirm its support and participation in that partnership.
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