The recent passage by Congress of bipartisan brownfields reform legislation is receiving praise from government, business and environmental groups.
H.R. 2869, the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act, combines two measures: a Senate bill authorizing money for the cleanup of as many as 500,000 polluted industrial sites - known as "brownfields" - and tightening some regulations governing them; and an earlier House bill that exempts small businesses from liability under the Superfund law if they didn''t contribute a significant amount of waste.
"This is truly one of the most significant environmental reform measures to pass Congress in several sessions,'''' said Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio, who sponsored H.R.2869.
The new legislation, which covers a five-year period, allocates as much as $200 million per year to clean up brownfields sites.
The brownfields legislation:
- Increases annual spending for cleanup from $92 million to $200 million.
- Shields developers who buy abandoned factory sites and inner-cite junkyards from lawsuits brought by EPA, and from having to pay Superfund penalties for pollution caused by previous owners.
- Creates a public record of brownfield sites, encourages local involvement in site cleanup and reuse.
- Authorizes $50 million per year in grants to local and state governments to enhance cleanup programs.
- Requires contractors to pay workers the prevailing wage on brownfield cleanup projects, just as they must on other federal Superfund cleanup projects.
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., chief author of the Senate bill, called the House vote "a victory for the environment, the president, and for communities around the country."
The Bush administration sought several provisions in the legislation; one in particular exempts property buyers from having to pay cleanup costs if toxic waste is found on the site after it is purchased. Superfund law, which requires those responsible for the contamination to pay for cleanup, will still apply.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman said the legislation passed by Congress differentiates between large contributors of toxic waste and small businesses who disposed of only small amounts of waste or ordinary trash, and will not be considered responsible parties.
According to Whitman, the legislation "will reduce litigation as well as remove barriers" to the cleanup of contaminated sites.
The Trust for Public Land called the legislation a "win-win" measure. "We consider that liability protection a blessing, because it specifically shields innocent purchasers who are trying to do something right with properties that someone else used badly," said Alan Front, a senior vice president for Trust for Public Land.
New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, president of the U.S. Conference Of Mayors, said that the nation''s mayors also support H.R. 2869, noting it will "speed the clean-up of thousands of industrial brownfield sites across the country.
"Passage of this bill will help revitalize many of these contaminated sites and the surrounding communities, generating sorely needed jobs and tax revenue and improving the environment," he added.
In a February 2000 report, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that brownfields redevelopment could generate 550,00 additional jobs and up to $2.4 billion in new tax revenue for cities nationwide.
J. Thomas Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference Of Mayors, noted that revitalizing brownfield sites has been a priority for the conference since 1994.
"Passage of this legislation is a great victory for mayors and the people who live in America''s cities, providing needed job opportunities during the current recession and for many years into the future," he said.
H.R. 2869 also received praise from groups representing property owners. The National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) has been involved with this legislation from the very beginning, according to NAIOP President Thomas J. Bisacquino.
"We were honored to testify before the House Energy & Commerce Committee''s Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials in June to discuss various brownfields proposals, and are pleased that this bill is going to the president for his signature," said Bisacquino.
NAIOP 2001 Chairman Anne Evans Estabrook, owner and CEO of Elberon Development Co. in Kenilworth, NJ, noted that, "All across the country, there is debate about how to revitalize our urban and suburban areas. In New Jersey alone we have over 8,000 brownfields sites that are prime candidates for redevelopment."
The group says that by passing the bipartisan legislation, Congress affirms that brownfields redevelopment is in the best interest of the American people, the development community, and the environmental community.
Bisacquino said his group - which represents the interests of developers and owners of industrial, office and related commercial real estate - was particularly pleased with certain aspects of the legislation, including the clarification of several Superfund liability issues such as perspective purchaser protection, protection for innocent landowners, and protection for landowners contiguous to contaminated property.
"While we realize that there are those who wanted this bill to go further, our members feel that H.R. 2869 will take great strides in increasing the development of brownfields," he added.
The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), an association of some 6,000 independent engineering companies, worked closely with House of Representatives and Senate leaders to develop the bill. While the Senate approved its version 99-0 last April, ACEC and other industry groups had to work diligently with House sponsors of the measure to allay concerns over Davis-Bacon related provisions in the legislation.
"Passage of this bill shows the American people that the Congress is engaged on the issues of most importance to them in their day to day lives," said ACEC President David R. Raymond.
by Sandy Smith ([email protected])