Helmke: "Mayors Want Brownfields Legislation, Superfund Reform This Congress"
Conference President Applauds Rep. Sherwood Boehlert's Legislation
By Kevin McCarty
Conference President and Fort Wayne Paul Helmke told a House Subcommittee October 29 that "The time has come to move much need changes to the Superfund law, and with it, provisions that revamp existing federal rules and policies affecting brownfields properties."
Appearing before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, Helmke praised its chairman, Rep. Sherry Boehlert (NY), and his legislation, H.R. 2727, that strengthens federal support for cleaning up brownfields and reforms the nation's Superfund law. "We hope the legislation before us, the Superfund Acceleration, Fairness and Efficiency Act' spurs conclusive action during this Congress," Helmke said.
Helmke underscored the urgency of this issue, stating, "We pledge our support to you and others to get a bipartisan reform of Superfund through Congress and we can't wait any longer for action on brownfields."
In his statement, Helmke spoke to the brownfields provisions of Rep. Boehlert's bill, emphasizing the need to remove brownfield properties from Superfund's liability regime. "Liability is most important and we need to fix this. We should make sure we don't come after people that didn't cause contamination of these properties," Helmke said.
The liability provisions of current law were intended to recover cleanup costs from parties responsible for contamination at sites, with the federal interest largely directed at the most polluted sites, not brownfields.
"We need a stronger partnership with the federal government on brownfields," Helmke told the panel members. He also recommended that the bill provide include provisions that would allow Congress to provide increase funding for assessments and remediation of brownfields beyond the $85 million annually provided under H.R. 2727.
Helmke praised the Superfund law and said, "Number of good things that happened from Superfund but we created these dead zones, sites which are dirty but not dangerous.' These dead zones exist in all communities."
He explained how redevelopment of brownfields can help address welfare-to-work by creating jobs in neighborhood where people live and counter urban sprawl and its environmental impacts, such as the loss of open space and air quality problems. "Bottom line is we don't want these dead zones," Helmke said.
Rep. Boehlert noted that there is "very little disagreement in the Congress on brownfields" and he emphasized that "he wants to deal with brownfields." Helmke responded, "We are here today to support you in these efforts.
House Subcommittee Plans Markup
In an effort to energize the lagging Congressional debate on Superfund reform, Boehlert wants the Water Resources Subcommittee to take action on H.R. 2727 before Congress adjourns in November.
Prompt action on H.R. 2727 may help break the Congressional impasse that has frustrated efforts to enact comprehensive Superfund reform for several years. Boehlert is committed to working with Administration officials and Democratic House members in an effort to move forward with bipartisan legislation that addresses both Superfund and brownfields.
To date, House and Senate Republican leaders have opposed action on any legislation that would separate brownfields from comprehensive reform of Superfund. As a result, despite strong bipartisan Congressional support for action on brownfields-related initiatives, including near consensus on provisions narrowing Superfund's liability regime, it is unlikely at this time that Congressional Committee will act on brownfields unless such provisions are part of a broader legislative package reforming the Superfund program.
Key Features of Boehlert Bill
In crafting H.R. 2727, Boehlert responded to numerous concerns raised by mayors and others about how Superfund and its liability provisions have stigmatized brownfields sites even though such properties are not and never will be considered contaminated enough to qualify for cleanups under the federal Superfund. His legislation relieves innocent parties, both public and private who voluntarily acquire contaminated brownfield sites, from Superfund's strict liability rules. It also provides special rules protecting public entities acquiring such properties involuntarily.
The legislation also provides new authorizations for funding to local governments and states to undertake assessments of sites, providing $20 million annually for this purpose. In addition, $65 million is authorized each year for remediation grants up to $1 million to local governments and states to establish revolving loan funds to assist the cleanup of brownfields sites. The legislation is five-year bill and the authorizations for assessment and remediation funding would expire at that time.
Finally, H.R. 2727 establishes new rules governing state voluntary cleanup programs, with provisions that limit the use of federal authorities on sites cleaned up under state programs.
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