Perron Tells Senate Brownfields Is Top Priority
By Dave Gatton
Elkhart Mayor James P. Perron told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at a September 4 hearing in Washington, D.C. that Brownfields cleanup and redevelopment provisions were the top priority of mayors in a comprehensive Superfund bill.
Testifying with Nebraska Governor E. Benjamin Nelson, Perron said that the Superfund program helped create hundreds of thousands of brownfield sites in cities by driving away developers who were fearful of being caught in Superfund’s liability web. He told the Committee that the unintended negative consequences of Superfund had resulted in job loss, urban sprawl and loss of local tax revenues. He cited a Conference 39-City Survey that estimated an annual loss of tax revenues between $122 million and $387 million in those cities.
The hearing was held on S.8, the Superfund Cleanup Acceleration Act of 1997, cosponsored by Committee Chairman John Chaffee (RI) and Subcommittee Chairman Robert Smith (NH).
Title I of S.8 would authorize a brownfield cleanup program at EPA that would provide site assessment and characterization grants to cities and capitalization grants to establish local cleanup revolving loan programs. Perron told the committee that the mayors had unanimously adopted policy at their San Francisco annual meeting which calls for at least 10 percent, or $200 million, of the $2 billion Superfund program to be pegged for these programs. The current draft of Title I, however; authorizes a level of only $40 million, but House and Senate appropriators have already earmarked $85 million and $88 million, respectively, to EPA’s Brownfields program for fiscal year 1998. Perron stated that the authorized levels needed to be raised significantly higher.
Perron also told the committee that local governments should be given the greatest flexibility possible in structuring and developing local brownfields programs. He cited the need for a broader definition of brownfields in the bill and the ability for mayors to use brownfields funding on sites that had previously received EPA’s emergency response funds. "These abandoned industrial sites may have remediation needs which require action to address an emergency threat, followed by a less urgent cleanup process to restore the property to a useful purpose," he said.
Many brownfield sites also have multiple contaminants that may be subject to various EPA statutory authorities. Perron told the lawmakers that cities needed the equivalent of a “one stop” shop at EPA where the sole objective should be to clean up the site so that it can be returned to productive reuse to the community as soon as possible.
Perron commended the committee for providing provisions in S.8 which would protect third party purchasers of brownfield sites. The mayor also called for strong provisions for "finality" of a site’s cleanup through state voluntary clean up programs. These finality provisions would limit the ability of EPA to reintervene on sites that have been cleaned up to a previously agreed to level. The private sector has long contended that they need assurances in order to invest in both the cleanup of sites and their redevelopment.
On broader Superfund provision, S.8 exempts from liability generators and transporters of municipal solid waste from cleanup costs incurred at NPL co-disposal sites after date-of-enactment.
The bill also caps liability for local government owners and operators at these sites which received hazardous materials and municipal solid waste prior to Superfund’s enactment in 1980.
The hearing was hastily called by Senator Chaffee to help move the pace of negotiations on the broader Superfund bill which has many controversial elements. Senate Republicans and Democrats have been negotiating behind the scenes since July, but the pace of discussion was not on track to pass a bill this year. At the hearing, Smith and Chaffee announced plans to hold a markup on September 11, but after Senator Max Baucus (MT), ranking Democrat on the committee, pledged to redouble efforts and negotiations, Senator Smith agreed to delay the markup for a limited number of weeks.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner was the lead witness at the hearing and pledged her cooperation to continue negotiations toward a bipartisan agreement this year. But it was clear from Browner’s written testimony that significant differences remain between the Agency and Senate Republicans.
Browner was asked by former mayor of Tulsa, Senator James Inhofe (OK), whether she agreed with the nation’s mayors that EPA’s recently finalized rules on ozone and particulate matter would make it more difficult for cities to redevelop brownfield sites, particularly for communities thrown into non-attainment status. Browner responded that she disagreed that the two programs were in conflict and that she has started to discuss the issue with Ft. Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, President of The U.S. Conference of Mayors.
At the hearing Mayor Perron publicly expressed The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ strong support for East Orange Mayor Cardell Cooper’s nomination by President Clinton to be an EPA Assistant Administrator overseeing the Superfund, Brownfield, and Municipal Solid Waste programs. It is the first time a mayor has been nominated for the post, which is considered one of the toughest jobs at that level in the federal government. The Senate Environment and Publics Works Committee has jurisdiction over Cooper’s confirmation process in the Senate. Perron told the committee that Cooper’s administrative and policy experience would make him an excellent nominee for the post.
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