WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley said that transparency about water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is long overdue, as Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy today released more than 8,500 documents from the Department of Defense. The documents were produced in response to a request made last month by Leahy and Grassley.
The Department of Defense had refused to produce documents in response to a similar request made in March. That request stemmed from complaints to members of Congress about the Navy’s refusal to disclose documents needed for scientific studies of the contamination at the base.
“Congressional offices had received complaints that the Navy was improperly citing exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act to withhold documents related to the contamination,” Grassley said, expressing frustration that the Obama administration has not been more forthcoming despite memos issued by the President and pledges to be the “most transparent administration ever.”
The drinking water contamination that took place over several decades at the base was one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. A registry exists for individuals who lived or worked at the base before 1987 to receive notifications about the contamination. It includes the names of 1,121 Iowans. It is estimated that more than 750,000 people may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals at the base.
Grassley cosponsored the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, which was introduced by Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina in 2011. A version of the bill passed the Senate yesterday with unanimous approval. The legislation would help to provide medical treatment and care for service members and their families who lived at the camp and were injured by this chemical contamination.
Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Water Contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune
Thursday, July 19, 2012
I’m pleased that Chairman Leahy and I were able to help with the effort to look at the issue of water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. In particular, in June, we sent a letter to the Department of Defense, which has resulted in it producing more than 8,500 documents to the Judiciary Committee.
I know that Senator Burr and others have been leaders with the effort to look into the situation at Camp Lejeune.
Every member of the Senate should be aware of the situation at Camp Lejeune.
The drinking water contamination that took place over several decades at the base was one of the worst environmental disasters in American history.
Camp Lejeune was designated a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1988 after inspections confirmed contamination of the ground water due to the migration of hazardous chemicals from outside the base and inadequate procedures to contain and dispose of hazardous chemicals on the base.
Residents of every State, who previously lived or worked at the base, have been impacted by the contamination.
Indeed, more than 180,000 current and former members of the armed services and employees at the base have signed up for the Camp Lejeune Historic Drinking Water Registry. By registering, individuals who lived or worked at the base before 1987 receive notifications about the contamination.
The Camp Lejeune registry includes residents from all 50 States. 1,121 Iowans are among them. It’s estimated that more than 750,000 people may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals at the base.
The numbers don’t fully reflect the impact of the disaster at the base. There are real people behind those numbers.
In March, as part of the Judiciary Committee’s annual oversight hearing on the Freedom of Information Act, we heard the testimony of retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune with his family and told us of the battle his daughter, Janey, fought with leukemia for two-and-a-half years, before she died at the age of nine. He also told us of the difficulties that he and others were having getting information from the Department of Defense.
The men and women of the armed services protect us every day. We should never take them or the sacrifices that they and their families make for granted.
We in Congress have an obligation to do everything that we can to support them in their mission.
That’s why I’m a cosponsor of the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, which was introduced by Senator Burr in 2011. That bill, a version of which passed by unanimous consent in the Senate yesterday, will help to provide medical treatment and care for service members and their families, who lived at the camp and were injured by the chemical contamination.
Unfortunately, the Department of Defense has not been forthcoming with information about the contamination at Camp Lejeune.
That’s troubling, especially coming from the administration that proclaims itself to be the “most transparent administration ever.”
As we all recall, on his first full day in office, President Obama declared openness and transparency to be touchstones of his administration, and ordered agencies to make it easier for the public to get information about the government.
Specifically, he issued two memoranda written in grand language and purportedly designed to usher in a “new era of open government.”
Based on my experience in trying to pry information out of the Executive Branch and based on investigations I’ve conducted, and inquiries by the media, I’m disappointed to report that President Obama’s statements in memos about transparency are not being put into practice.
There’s a complete disconnect between the President’s grand pronouncements about transparency and the actions of his political appointees.
The situation with the Camp Lejeune documents is just another example of that disconnect. The documents should have been produced long ago.
The recent letter that Chairman Leahy and I sent from the Judiciary Committee had to be sent because the Defense Department refused to produce documents in response to a March letter signed by six senators and three members of the House of Representatives. Chairman Leahy and I had also signed that March letter.
The March letter had to be sent because of complaints that Congressional offices had received about the Navy’s refusal to disclose documents needed for scientific studies of the contamination at Camp Lejeune. It was also needed because of claims that the Navy is improperly citing exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act to withhold documents related to the contamination.
So, while I’m pleased that there was a bipartisan effort to obtain these documents, I’m disappointed by the stonewalling and by the hurdles that were put up by the administration.
Transparency and open government must be more than just pleasant sounding words found in memos. They are essential to the functioning of a democratic government.
Transparency is about basic good government and accountability—not party politics or ideology.
Throughout my career I have actively conducted oversight of the Executive Branch regardless of who controls the Congress or the White House.
I’ll continue doing what I can to hold this administration’s feet to the fire with Camp Lejeune and where ever else I find stonewalling and secrecy.
Thank you. I yield the floor.