WASHINGTON — A North Carolina senator will allow the appointment of two top Navy officials to go forward after blocking their nominations because of a dispute over water contamination at the Camp Lejeune, N.C., Marine Corps base.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr had blocked the appointments because the Department of the Navy, which includes the Marines, had refused to fund a congressionally mandated $1.53 million mortality study on the impacts of the toxic water at the base.
This week, the Navy sent Burr a document proving it had released $8.8 million for the mortality study and a handful of other studies related to the water contamination. All will be conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the Centers for Disease Control.
"I am pleased that the Navy has finally decided to comply with their legal obligations to fund these critical studies," Burr said in a statement. "I am hopeful that these studies will give exposed veterans and their family members the answers they deserve."
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Burr had put holds on two nominees: Paul Luis Oostberg Sanz for general counsel, and Jackalyne Pfannenstiel to be an assistant secretary for installations and environment.
The nominations can now move toward a full Senate vote.
Under Senate rules, individual senators routinely put holds on nominees to exert pressure on issues important to them. The practice has been criticized for causing legislative gridlock, but it continues nonetheless.
The Navy had refused for months to fund the mortality study, which will compare the deaths of Marines living at Camp Lejeune to those at Camp Pendleton, Calif., just north of San Diego.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told Burr as recently as January that the study was unnecessary. Burr pledged in a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing that no Navy nominees would move forward until the study was paid for.
Two weeks ago, the Navy agreed to fund the study. The announcement came days after McClatchy reported that benzene, a component of fuel and a known carcinogen, may play a greater role than known in the contamination that might have affected tens of thousands of Marines and their families.
An estimated 1 million people were exposed to contamination at the base between 1957 and 1987.
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