Brownfields To Turn Green Again

May 15, 2002

EPA Working On Cleanup Law Implementation

Marcie Geffner
Inman News Features

Washington, D.C.?A package of Federal laws enacted last year to encourage cleanup of the nation?s brownfields contains a number of important benefits for developers seeking to redevelop these lesser-contaminated properties, but doesn?t provide all the protections some representatives would have liked to have achieved in the legislation, according to Amit Sachder, counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, who spoke here this morning during a forum at the National Association of Realtors mid-year governance meetings.

Sachder said the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act "turns lemons into lemonade and it really does take a lot of sugar to make this drink sweet." The sweetener comes in the form of $1.25 billion over a five-year period, plus some "modest, but very useful reforms that address longstanding problems with the Superfund program that have made the cleanup and redevelopment of lesser-contaminated sites difficult at best," he said.

The law addresses not the hundreds of Superfund sites around the country, but rather the upwards of 500,000 abandoned toxic sites that "should be redeveloped, but shouldn?t have to be redeveloped under the rubric of Superfund," Sachder said.

The law frees brownfields for redevelopment by delinking this category of real property from both the Superfund laws and the National Contingency Plan, which piled excessive regulations on brownfield redevelopment.

The new law also relieves landowners from much of the worrisome exposure to potential years-long litigation battles with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over brownfield sites. That is accomplished by clarifying working relationships between the states and the EPA and reinforcing the primacy of state-run programs in local brownfields cleanups, according to Sachder. He said the law bars the EPA from coming onto the scene and requiring additional cleanup after state-acceptable cleanup has been completed, except in limited circumstances.

President Bush?s 2003 budget proposed $200 million in funding for the law this year?an amount less than the $250 million maximum authorization envisioned for the year, but still more than double the prior amount for this type of activity and enough to go "a long way" with the program, according to Michael Shapiro, principal deputy administrator of the EPA?s office of solid waste and emergency response.

The money will be earmarked for revolving brownfields-related loan programs, site verification, assessment and remediation and states? own brownfields response programs.

Sachder called the law a "first step" and said the House committee chairmen also favor expanding opportunities for cleanup of petroleum-contaminated sites and expansion of the liability protections more broadly under solid waste laws.

The law opens the door for the EPA to spend money on cleanup of petroleum-contaminated sites, but there is a catch. "By allowing petroleum-contaminated sites, we?ve expanded the coverage of the brownfields program," Sachder said. But "the enforcement bar that you get for cleanups done under state programs will not apply to petroleum-contaminated sites."

Shapiro said EPA will enable implementation of the new law quickly because the legislation doesn?t mandate extensive rule-making by the agency. Many key provisions will be ready to go by October, even though EPA administrators still are scratching their heads over a few sections of the law.

"We are in relatively good position at this time, but we do have a significant challenge even with the assistance Congress gave us in terms of not having to do regulations because we do want the program in place by October," he said.

Shapiro said the EPA wants to deliver funding and support quickly, efficiently and effectively to states and other organizations and entities that will implement the various programs, build partnerships with those organizations and entities, and leverage government resources by focusing on initiatives that will encourage the emerging private market for brownfields cleanup.

"The vast array of resources and money that will go towards solving the problems of the 500,000 or so brownfields sites are going to come from the private sector," he said.

The agency is proposing a streamlined uniform grant program for the revolving loan funds and the grants for site assessment, cleanups, training programs and the like. Shapiro also said the agency sees the liability protections as largely "self-implementing" provisions that won?t require much in the way of regulations and guidelines.

Copyright: Inman News Service

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