Baucus Presses EPA Secretary Nominee to Declare Emergency in Libby

By Beacon Staff

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said, if confirmed by Congress, Environmental Protection Agency secretary nominee Lisa Jackson will visit Libby. More importantly, Montana’s senior senator said he would press Jackson to consider declaring a public health emergency in the town.

In September, Baucus accused EPA officials of orchestrating a “conspiracy” for not declaring an emergency in Libby. He compiled a 50-page report based on thousands of internal governments and e-mails between federal officials. From Myers Reece’s story:

According to the report, in 2002 EPA staff working in Libby urged a public health emergency declaration. The report states that top-level EPA officials initially approved the declaration until a meeting was held on April 16, 2002 between officials from the EPA, OMB and other groups. At the time of this meeting, the report states, the EPA’s Office of General Council was developing a new legal interpretation that labeled the Zonolite insulation as a “non-product” of the mine since it was not sold at stores and instead was picked out of scrap piles by locals. Around this time, the EPA dropped its declaration plans.

Baucus said he’s “not going to rest” until a public health emergency is declared. He said he is considering proposing legislation.

Here’s a press release from Baucus’ office:

(Washington, D.C.) – If confirmed, Environmental Protection Agency Secretary nominee Lisa Jackson today pledged to visit Libby at Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus request and to reconsider EPA’s decision to not declare a public health emergency in Libby. A public health emergency declaration will give EPA clear authority to fully clean up Libby and provide federal medical care to Libby residents suffering from asbestos exposure.

Baucus, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has made cleaning up Libby and helping residents get the health care they need and deserve one of his top priorities.

Baucus called on EPA Secretary nominee Jackson to make Libby a top priority if she is confirmed. Baucus called on the EPA to declare a public health emergency in Libby, to make cleaning up Libby a priority and to help get Libby residents the care they need and deserve.

“The EPA has failed to understand the needs of some of our most vulnerable communities,” said Baucus at today’s hearing. “No where is this more true than in Libby where EPA’s failure to declare a public health emergency has hindered EPA’s cleanup efforts and denied medical care to hundreds of residents. EPA must make Libby a priority – it’s the right thing to do.”

Jackson today pledged that if confirm, she will:
· Visit Libby.
· Meet with EPA staff on the ground in Libby about progress – what has been done, what needs to be done.
· Meet with Libby residents about their needs.
· Reconsider EPA’s decision to not declare Libby a public health emergency and will get a report within 90 days of confirmation to Baucus.

“Several years ago, I made a promise to the people of Libby that I would do all I could to help them. I’m going to keep that promise,” Baucus said. “If confirmed, I look forward to working together with Ms. Jackson and will make sure that she and the EPA do right by the people of Libby.”

Baucus has been Libby’s top proponent, securing millions in federal funding for health care and cleanup after W.R. Grace mining operations there exposed residents to deadly asbestos fibers.

Baucus has personally visited Libby more than 20 times, including separate visits with HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.