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By Brian Dabbs
June 28 — The Senate passed legislation by unanimous consent June 27 to reauthorize the Environmental Protection Agency's brownfields program and increase grant resources for remediation.
The bill, S.1479, would allow the EPA to dole out individual grants totalling $950,000, while also expanding remediation authority for charitable organizations.
A uniquely bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers, including Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), rallied behind the bill in recent months, arguing the new language will help clean up blighted sites nationwide and boost the economy.
“This legislation will help ensure that these brownfield sites will no longer be part of the problem, but will be part of an economic solution,” Markey said in a joint press release June 28.
Brownfields refer to sites polluted by former industrial and commercial operations and subsequently abandoned. An estimated 450,000 sites exist nationwide.
The legislation, which amends the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), would reauthorize the EPA brownfields program until 2018.
That program lapsed in 2006, but lawmakers have continued to appropriate money to fund its activities.
The legislation would increase, from $200,000 to $500,000, the remediation grant amount the president is allowed to allocate to both profitable and nonprofit organizations. The EPA administrator would then be able to waive that cap, raising the overall grant total to $650,000 for each site.
All grant decisions must factor in a set of considerations, such as preservation, fulfillment of community needs and reuse of existing infrastructure.
The legislation, known as the BUILD Act, also would provide more opportunity for government entities to remediate, and it would give states more resources to assist small and disenfranchised communities with cleanups.
On top of those new provisions, the bill would give the EPA the power to grant $500,000 for brownfield redevelopment tied to new clean energy projects.
Senate supporters have advanced the legislation both standalone and as part of the chamber's comprehensive energy package, which passed the Senate in April.
Inhofe pushed House counterparts to follow suit.
“Now we are one step closer to enacting this legislation into law and reforming the program to make several overdue improvements,” said Inhofe, the Environment and Public Works Committee chairman. “I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to swiftly move to pass the [legislation].”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), another sponsor, echoed that call in the joint statement, but House staff reacted guardedly to the passage.
“The committee’s still reviewing the bill,” Dan Schneider, spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce majority staff, told Bloomberg BNA.
A spokesman for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the other House panel with jurisdiction over the legislation, didn't respond to a Bloomberg BNA e-mail.
Donelle Harder, Inhofe's spokeswoman, said Senate staffers are reaching across the Capitol.
“Our staff has touched base with the committees and have asked that the legislation move forward either as a standalone or in the energy conference report,” she told Bloomberg BNA.
The Senate may vote as early as this week to endorse an energy conference. A staffer close to those negotiations said easy Senate passage makes the legislation more likely to be included in a final conference resolution.
Both chambers of Congress passed the brownfields bill in their energy package.
“But it is too early to speculate on its ultimate fate in an energy bill conference,” Nicole Daigle, spokeswoman for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told Bloomberg BNA.
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