Tester statement on Inspector General’s report on Libby communication efforts

In followup letter, Tester and Baucus urge ‘vigorous’ response

(BIG SANDY, Mont.) — U.S. Senator Jon Tester today released the following statement in response to a report by the Office of the Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency.  The report, requested last year by Tester and Senator Max Baucus, highlights recommendations to improve communication efforts regarding asbestos contamination in Libby, Mont.:

“Libby residents deserve to know what’s going in their community without having to ask for an investigation.  The Inspector General’s report highlights a number of steps that the EPA should take as soon as possible so that Libby residents and small business owners can grow their economy and add jobs instead of worrying about what they’re not being told.  The EPA must improve communication because the people of Libby deserve no less.”

Tester and Senator Max Baucus also sent letter today to the EPA, saying they look forward to implementing the recommendations in order “to create a coherent and overarching communication plan that helps residents understand the process as well as the data you are collecting and resulting clean up strategy.”

The Senators letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson appears below and HERE.


The Honorable Lisa Jackson
Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator Jackson:

Today the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing a report on improving communication efforts at the asbestos Superfund site in Libby, Montana.  The report clearly highlights concerns we have had for the past few years:  that Libby does not have an overall communication strategy “to guide, coordinate, and evaluate its communication efforts.”   This report, requested by our offices last year, highlights a number of salient solutions to improve the ineffective communications from EPA.  We urge you to swiftly incorporate these changes as quickly as possible and report back to the OIG and our offices about your progress in the upcoming months.

The report quickly points out that EPA can make some small changes that go a long way.  Specifically, the technical nature of the reports, currently written to a graduate education reading level, makes garnering information difficult for some local residents.  Also the pathways of information residents depend on the most, such as local meetings and the information center, are much more informal than the vast and technical internet resources where the EPA has focused much of their data.  Thus much of the information is not clearly making it to the community about what is understood, what needs to be addressed and what is outside the EPA’s ability to address.

The report points out in particular the need for EPA to organize community questions and input from public meetings and electronic exchanges in a more responsive, systematic way. We hear consistently from constituents in Libby about their concerns being lost in the shuffle of EPA’s work. Most recently, residents have received curt and at times flippant public responses to widespread anxiety about the contamination of local waterways, wildlife, and wood products used in Libby. These responses from EPA are unsettling, and we urge the agency to correct through vigorously implementing these recommendations.

We recognize the ever-evolving challenges of the science and clean-up for the EPA in Libby.  But with clear, consistent, and approachable communication, we believe that resident’s fears can be assuaged.  We look forward to you implementing the OIG’s recommendations to create a coherent and overarching communication plan that helps residents understand the process as well as the data you are collecting and resulting clean up strategy.

Thank you for your consideration.

Jon Tester
Max Baucus