Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Leavitt to visit May 26

| April 9, 2004 12:00 AM

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt is making good on his promise to visit Libby with an on-site tour scheduled for May 26.

U.S. Sen. Baucus put his support behind Leavitt¹s nomination to head the EPA last year after receiving a commitment that the former Utah governor would visit Libby personally and help the town recover from years of asbestos exposure from the defunct vermiculite mine that operated until 1990.

³I¹m glad to announce that Governor Leavitt will visit Libby, because it will be so important for him to see personally, with his own eyes, the devastation asbestos has caused there,² Baucus said. ³I want Governor Leavitt to see and feel the spirit and courage folks have in Libby. I want him to look into their eyes, like I have, and hear their stories.²

Baucus said he would like for Leavitt to, among other things, tour the Center for Asbestos Related Disease and hold a town hall meeting.

Local EPA Superfund project manager Jim Christiansen said he will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to brief Leavitt sometime within the next month.

Christiansen said he hopes Leavitt will be able to spend an entire day in Libby.

³I think he needs a full day here to get a sense of what¹s going on,² he said.

Many Libby-area residents are eager for an opportunity to meet with Leavitt and talk to him about the cleanup, Christiansen said.

³They want an open public meeting, and I think that¹s the most important thing now,² he said.

Baucus has been critical of the EPA¹s slow cleanup progress, noting the agency has identified more than 1,300 properties in Libby that still require cleanup and that the agency¹s timeframe for cleaning up the town has been pushed back from 2004 to 2008. Having been in Libby for three years, Baucus says it¹s unacceptable that the agency has completed only 10 percent of the cleanup work needed to give the town a clean bill of health.

During a recent Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Baucus took Leavitt to task for not being more vocal about the agency¹s below-par funding levels.

Baucus said President Bush¹s fiscal year 2005 budget request to Congress includes $7.8 billion for the EPA, a 7.2-percent cut from 2004 funding levels.

³People are dead and dying in Libby from decades of exposure to asbestos,² said Baucus, a senior member of the EPW panel. ³I know that I¹ve said it over and over and over again. But it always bears repeating. We cannot forget the human scale of the Libby tragedy, and that¹s what must drive the EPA¹s commitment to finish the fine response and clean-up work that it started back in 1999.²

Since the winter of 1999, Baucus has personally visited Libby more than 13 times and has secured millions of federal dollars to help with cleanup and health care efforts.