Tester pitches plan to clean up Libby, help asbestos victims

Fellow senators on Appropriations Committee want to include Tester’s idea in bill

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today pitched a plan to help clean up Libby and improve health care for victims of asbestos poisoning in the northwest Montana town.

And Tester’s plan is already picking up steam on the influential Senate Appropriations Committee.

During a hearing today on Capitol Hill, Tester asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to team up with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to work together to clean up asbestos contamination in Libby and make the community safe.

Such a partnership would be “a giant step forward in meeting some of the challenges that occur in Libby,” Tester told Jackson.

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester was a leading voice in establishing a similar partnership between the Veterans’ Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense.  Once finalized, the new partnership will improve health care for veterans by streamlining the way both agencies share information.

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.  The entire community of Libby 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.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chaired today’s 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 Senator Tester has just suggested: take a new look at it, and give us some findings,” Feinstein said.

Today 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 Senator Max Baucus.  Baucus has long been an advocate for asbestos victims in Libby.

“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.”

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.