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'Brownfield' Cleanup Law Signed by Bush

Land: The program offers financial and legal aid to communities to develop abandoned industrial sites.

January 12, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. — President Bush signed into law Friday a bill that offers new incentives, including $200 million in aid, for communities and developers to clean up abandoned industrial sites and turn them into commercial, residential and recreational spaces.

The law also provides expanded liability protection for those willing to develop such "brownfields."

That provision, Bush said, plus the new funding--a doubling of current federal spending for brownfields cleanup--should hasten the restoration of such sites.

Bush estimated that nationwide there are 500,000 to 1 million brownfields. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a coauthor of the bill, said 67,000 have been identified in California.

Bush described the new law as a job-creating measure and a tool to help curb urban sprawl, saying it will "enhance prosperity and the safety of Americans living in urban areas."

To emphasize the issue, the president traveled to this western suburb of Philadelphia and signed the legislation at the Millennium Corporate Center, a onetime 30-acre steel foundry that is now a high-tech business complex with more than 800,000 square feet of office, retail and recreational space.

Gesturing to a young family in the audience, Bush said: "When I saw the family over there, it reminded me that we have more responsibilities than just those on the war [on terrorism]. And that is, we've got a responsibility of making sure every child is educated and that the environment in which our children grow up is healthy and clean."

The ceremony capped a week during which Bush sought to tout his environmental credentials, which are highly suspect among some activists.

On Wednesday, he signed an agreement to ensure that the water-deprived Florida Everglades has first claim rights to water from a massive $8.4-billion reclamation project. On Thursday, he signed two measures to help conserve endangered African elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers.

"Environmental protection and economic growth can go on together," Bush said Friday. "It is possible for the two to exist, if we're wise about public policy."

Friday's event also afforded Bush another opportunity to spotlight a popular and bipartisan measure. On Monday, he traveled to three states as part of signing ceremonies for a sweeping education reform bill.

The White House relishes these opportunities, in part because this year's congressional session is likely to be marked by sharp disagreements, and potential stalemate, on an array of domestic issues.

Friday's bill-signing elicited an outpouring of favorable reaction. "Enactment of this brownfields law shows that when Congress and the president work together, we can help our economy, protect our environment and improve the quality of life for all Americans," said Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The measure provides liability protection for prospective purchasers of brownfields, contiguous property owners and landowners who did not contribute to a site's pollution.

"Many communities and entrepreneurs have sought to redevelop brownfields. Often they could not, either because of excessive regulation or because of the fear of endless litigation," Bush said.

"As a consequence, small businesses and other employers have located elsewhere, pushing development farther and farther outward, taking jobs with them and leaving cities empty."

The legislation also gives assurances to developers that once a state approves a brownfield cleanup plan, the federal government will not require additional work.

With the law, Bush said, "we are returning common sense to our cleanup program. We will protect innocent small-business owners and employees from unfair lawsuits and focus our efforts instead on actually cleaning up contaminated sites."

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