The Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act of 2001 passed 99-0 on 25 April allocating up to $250 million a year over the next five years for projects nationwide and dispensing with potential legal hazards facing prospective developers to encourage further investment. If passed in the House of Representatives, as is widely expected, the legislation may become the first environmental law signed by President Bush.

The bill authorises federal government to spend $150 million a year to help states, counties, cities and Indian reservations clean up brownfields, $50 million a year for state governments and Indian tribes demonstrating progress in cleanup efforts and $50 million for projects for land contaminated by oil or petrol. It will also provide protection from some liability claims that presently hit prospective brownfield developers. The bill’s supporters say that all too often developers ignore brownfields for fear of being held liable for contamination they did not cause, and instead have looked to greenfields as problem-free sites.

The bill says that some 450,000 brownfields exist nationwide, but until now progress has been held up by Republican senators demanding a review of the 1980 Superfund law, governing the cleanup of severely polluted sites. Because brownfields are not on the federal list of priority Superfund sites they have traditionally received less attention.

Senator Bob Smith, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the bill would “make a significant difference for communities across this nation by removing health threats and eyesores while providing for increased economic opportunities and more recreational space”.

“This bill reflects the Bush Administration’s belief that environmental protection and economic prosperity do go hand in hand,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman commented. The vote is an overwhelming endorsement of Brownfields programmes that: strengthen partnerships among states and local community groups and developers; improve public health; boost local property tax rolls and provide jobs.”

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