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Town Hall Meeting, Libby, Montana

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at a
Town Hall Meeting
Libby, Montana

September 7, 2001

Thank you, Senator Baucus, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased to be with you all today. I also want to thank your Congressman, Dennis Rehberg, for inviting me to Libby and I’m glad that Governor Martz could be with us.

While this is my first trip to Montana since I joined the EPA, I’ve been to this beautiful state many times before. My brother, Dan Todd, has a place in Livingston and one of my happiest family memories in recent years was when his daughter – my niece – was married in Clyde Park.
So Big Sky Country has a big place in my heart.

Of course, we’re here today about more serious matters – the effort to clean up the asbestos contamination here in Libby. In spite of all the work that’s been going on, when one’s families, homes, neighbors, and communities are threatened, nothing ever seems enough.

I am here today to give you my personal assurance that the EPA is committed to seeing to the full and complete protection of your health, the health of your families, and the health of the environment here in Libby and Lincoln County.

We are here to see that the job is done – and done right and done thoroughly – and we’re not going to leave until it is. As far as I’m concerned, we’re in this together and we’re in for the long haul.

Paul Peronard is my point man on the situation you are facing and I rely on him to keep me fully informed about what’s going on here. I want to thank Paul, and his very capable team, for their dedication and hard work.

Now we are preparing for the long haul and have to look at how best to proceed. As you know, the site investigation and cleanup activities that have taken place so far fall under the federal Superfund removal program. This work is vitally important – but I am not convinced it is enough.

I believe we have reached the point where we need to discuss what other options are available for restoring asbestos-contaminated areas in the Libby community. This may include listing the contaminated areas of Libby on the Superfund’s National Priorities List (NPL).

Among the advantages of being listed on the NPL is the greater assurance of smooth and continuous progress in addressing your needs.

I also recognize, however, the concern some have about the reputation they think accompanies a Superfund NPL designation. I want you to know that there are numerous examples around the country of former Superfund sites that are now fully revitalized and making important contributions to the life of their communities. There’s no reason that can’t happen here in Libby.

Of course, we will work closely with the Governor, state officials, the Libby community, and other stakeholders before we make any decision about NPL listing. We are ready to work with you because we all share the common goal of getting this problem fixed.

And because we share that goal I want to assure you of something else. It has never been our plan to look to you to pay for any part of this clean-up, including the clean-up of residential properties.

That is why I am pleased to announce today that EPA is taking an unusual legal step to protect you from future liability, whether or not we end up listing Libby on the NPL. We will be providing homeowners with legal guarantees – called “A No Action Assurance” – that will protect them from EPA’s ever seeking to have them assume the costs of cleanup. Similarly, local businesses in Libby that did not know about the hazards of vermiculite before November 1999, and that did not profit from its use, will also receive this guarantee.

Written information about these guarantees will be available to you at the conclusion of this meeting. Matt Cohn, of our Region 8 legal office, is also here to answer any questions you may have on this after the meeting.

This action is our way of showing you that when we say we are not going to make you pay for cleanup, we will back that up in writing.

Regardless, however, of the ultimate decision concerning NPL listing, EPA is committed to working with our partners to see that all necessary actions are taken to protect public health in the Libby community. When I say all necessary actions, that very well may include offering Libby residents the option of asking EPA to remove vermiculite insulation from their homes.

Because of the extraordinary nature of the total asbestos exposure in Libby, we will be looking, over the next month, at how we can overcome any hurdles that may exist to achieving our common goal – protecting your health and the health of your families.

As I said earlier, we are in this together, for the long haul.

We also want to do everything we can to protect the economic health of your community.

That is why we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that our work here improves, not detracts from, your property values.

You have labored long and hard to earn what you have. Just as we want to help protect the lives of this community, we also want to make sure your life’s work is not placed in jeopardy. You’ve worked too hard.

Before I conclude and take your questions, I also want you to know what effect your experiences here are having on our work at the EPA. Because of what we’ve found in Libby, we are reviewing all of the scientific information about health risks posed by asbestos. We want to know if there are other problem areas out there. And if there are, we will take the appropriate steps to address them.

I know it’s small comfort, but your experience and your pain may help others facing similar situations.

In addition, EPA will increase public outreach and education on potential risks associated with vermiculite. We want everyone who comes into contact with vermiculate – from homeowners to handymen – to have the information they need to protect themselves and their families.

Please be assured that EPA is committed to continuing our efforts to address the asbestos contamination in Libby. I will not rest until every Libby family can rest a little easier. On that you have my word.

Now I want to hear from you about how we can move forward together to restore this community – your home – to health.

Thank you.