George W. Bush proposes brownfield reform

US presidential candidate, George W. Bush, has outlined a six-point plan to encourage state and local authorities to redevelop abandoned industrial sites.

Making what has been billed as the first in a series of reform speeches, Bush blamed regulatory complexity and threats of legal liability for the fact that there are an estimated 450,000 brownfields in the US.

The US Conference of Mayors (USCM) recently reported that cities throughout the US contain brownfields covering an area the size of Boston, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco combined (see related story). The USCM has called for a renewed programme to redevelop US’ brownfield sites.

Kevin McCarty, USCM’s Assistant Executive Director of Telecommunications, Energy and the Environment, told edie that the USCM “is pleased to see that Candidate Bush has laid out his vision for how we can recycle these properties.” McCarty said Bush’s plans include many of the things the USCM is pushing for, including liability reform, the need for legislative action and for federal resources, “albeit somewhat limited in Bush’s plan.”

Speaking at a remediated brownfield site in Pennsylvania, Texas Governor Bush said, “Brownfield clean-ups and redevelopments represent the kind of co-operative spirit and results-oriented approach that, under my presidency, will guide our nation’s environmental agenda. The old system of mandate, regulate and litigate only sends potential developers off in search of greener pastures – literally. Brownfields get passed over, while greenfields get paved over. Washington’s command-and-control mindset is an obstacle to reform. The solution is not to eliminate the federal role in protecting the environment; the solution is reform, reform that sets high standards and produces results (for further information on the US presidential campaign see related story).

Under his six point agenda for brownfield reform, Bush will:

  • direct the US EPA to establish high standards for brownfield remediation to provide more flexibility than the current Superfund standards. This, says Bush, will ensure that brownfield clean-up operations are effective, affordable and encourage economic growth. Standards will be set for particular contaminants and the standards will take into account what the end use of the brownfield will be. States will be allowed to develop independent programmes to meet these standards
  • provide protection from federal liability at brownfields cleaned up under state programmes that meet Bush’s proposed federal standards. This, says Bush, will help remove legal obstacles that prevent brownfield remediation. Under Superfund’s legal framework, current owners of a contaminated property can be held liable for all or part of the cost of clean-up, whether or not they contributed to the contamination. Bush says that he will urge Congress to remove Superfund liability, so that once an eligible state certifies a brownfield clean-up as complete, the developer and future owners and operators of the redeveloped brownfield will be protected from both state and federal liability
  • focus federal government input on the development of new remediation technology
  • reform the $35 million Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund by sending the funds directly to the states in the form of block grants which can then be distributed to communities to finance brownfield remediation. At present, Bush says, loans for brownfield remediation are governed by one-size-fits-all clean-up regulations
  • permanently extend the Brownfield clean-up tax incentive, currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2001
  • hold US Government facilities accountable to environmental protection laws. This, says Bush, will end the double standard that has the federal government acting as environmental enforcer while, at the same time, polluting the environment

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