Congress Passes Comprehensive Brownfields Legislation

Congress passes comprehensive legislation that differentiates between large contributors of toxic waste and small businesses who disposed of only small amounts of waste.

The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed comprehensive brownfields legislation right before the Christmas holidays, earning praise from Christie Whitman. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator said the new legislation will make the cleanup of brownfields a more effective and cooperative effort.

"Revitalization of brownfields and new investment in our cities is essential. The passage of brownfields legislation by the Senate, following earlier action by the House, will considerably enhance our efforts on those fronts. Returning abandoned industrial sites to productive use can create jobs in areas where they are very much needed and also will improve the tax base of many communities," said Whitman. "The passage of this legislation has been a top environmental priority for the administration and I look forward to continuing to work with Congress on the important issues that face us."

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 be reducing litigation as well as removing barriers" to the cleanup of contaminated sites.

The legislation "recognizes the importance of our state and local partners by increasing funding and granting them more flexibility. It also assures prospective redevelopers that the federal government will not hold them responsible for past pollution at the redevelopment site. This effort, which includes small business liability reform, will bring much needed clarity to the liability section of the Superfund law," said Whitman.

Brownfields are abandoned, lightly contaminated properties often found in economically distressed areas, that can be returned to economically thriving, community hubs. Since 1993, the EPA has taken significant steps to clean up brownfields and return them to productive use, awarding over $200 million in grants to cities, counties, tribes, states, non-profit organizations and educational institutions nationwide.

On the heels of the comprehensive new brownfields legislation passed by Congress, Whitman announced $2 million in grants to provide environmental job training at brownfields sites in nine states and Washington, D.C.

"Job training programs ... provide local residents with the skills they need to participate in the cleanup of brownfields in their own communities - and to pursue careers in the environmental field," said Whitman. "Brownfields are eyesores in our otherwise vibrant city neighborhoods and we have to work hard to clean them up and turn them into community assets. When you look at an abandoned gas station or an old warehouse, I know you see the same thing that I do - a playground, a doctor''s office, or a ball field. I appreciate your dedication to making these kinds of transformations possible."

EPA is funding 10 new Job Training Demonstration Pilot Projects. The job training grants, totaling $200,000 each, are used to teach environmental-cleanup job skills to individuals living in low-income areas in the vicinity of brownfields sites. The majority of participants who successfully complete the training program go on to pursue careers with environmental firms and organizations.

Including the latest grant recipients in the District of Columbia and the states of Ohio, Rhode Island, Montana, Iowa, Indiana, Delaware, South Carolina, Washington and New York, brownfields job training program efforts are now active in 23 states and Puerto Rico.

Since the program started in 1998, 566 trainees, the majority of whom are minority, have been hired at an average hourly entry-level wage of $12.12.

According to an independent study conducted by the Council for Urban Economic Development, the revitalization of brownfields has created over 22,000 permanent jobs and leveraged $2.48 in private investment for every dollar spent by federal, state or local governments. A recent study by George Washington University found that for every acre of brownfields redeveloped, 4.5 acres of undeveloped land is saved.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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