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Tester pitches plan to help Libby

by Western News
| May 19, 2009 12:00 AM

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester last week asked the Environmental Protection Agency to team up with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve health care for victims of asbestos poisoning in Libby.

During a May 13 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Tester told EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that such a partnership would be “a giant step forward in meeting some of the challenges that occur in Libby.”

More than 200 residents of Libby have died and thousands more are still suffering from asbestos-related diseases. Victims were poisoned by asbestos from a now-defunct vermiculite mine operated by W.R. Grace and the entire community is now a Superfund site.

“I think that with some attention by people like you, Administrator Jackson, I think we can get a big bang for the buck,” Tester said. “We can help make Libby whole again and we can solve a huge problem that we have in one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chaired the subcommittee hearing. After hearing Tester’s idea, Feinstein offered to help Tester and Libby “in any way.”

“Why don’t we work together on some report language for the bill, which essentially would mandate the EPA to really do what Sen. Tester has just suggested … take a new look at it, and give us some findings,” Feinstein said.

 Tester also brought up the recent acquittal of several W.R. Grace executives accused of covering up the dangers of asbestos in Libby.

“Last week the Justice Department failed in their criminal case against W.R. Grace, and the people in Libby and Montana are extremely frustrated,” Tester told Jackson. “The situation in Libby is serious enough that it demands your personal attention. And immediate attention.”

Earlier this year, Jackson agreed to visit Libby at the request of Montana Sen. Max Baucus.

“The folks of Libby mean a lot to me. I’ve been there more than 20 times since 1999 and what’s happened there is wrong,” said Baucus, a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the EPA.

“Cleaning up Libby, getting folks the health care they deserve and helping the town rebuild its economy and its future is of utmost importance – and you can bet Jon and I will keep EPA’s feet to the fire to make sure that happens,” Baucus added.

 Earlier this year, Tester and Baucus secured and voted for $190,000 in funding for Libby’s Center for Asbestos Related Disease, a facility that specializes in treating asbestos victims.