By Jeannine anderson
WASHINGTON – Abandoned industrial sites in Baltimore and other parts of Maryland could become more attractive to investors if legislation pending in Congress is approved.
The measure says an investor who decided to buy such a site would not be liable for environmental contaminants found there later, as long as he or she was careful to check for any environmental problems before buying the property.
The bill, introduced last week by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D- N.J., and 10 other senators, “would make it very clear who is protected from liability,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner said Tuesday.
“This should stimulate a huge amount of interest in these sites,” she said.
The federal legislation is aimed at bringing new life to so- called “brownfields,” or vacant land once occupied by factories or other industrial enterprises. Developers do not want to buy such land, for fear that they might be held accountable for contaminants that might eventually be discovered there.
Most of these areas are in inner cities.
In Baltimore, city officials estimate that at least 3,500 acres of land zoned for heavy manufacturing have environmental problems that are likely to keep investors away.
“We have a lot of industrial land that can be recycled,” said Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore. “I strongly hope that this type of legislation will find its way through Congress.”
Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said there may be hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of brownfield sites in the state.
The federal bill is designed to spur economic development of old industrial sites all around the country.
“Decaying factories define the landscape in too many of our inner cities,” Lautenberg said. He said his bill would help change that landscape and bring jobs back to these areas.
If Congress passes the measure, state and local governments could get grants of as much as $200,000 from the federal government to take stock of their brownfields. They also could borrow up to $500,000 to clean up contaminated sites. The EPA would be in charge of the program.
The EPA also would draw up a checklist setting forth the steps investors would be expected to take to investigate possible contamination at brownfields.
Severely polluted areas that are part of the federal government’s Superfund program would not be eligible for assistance. The Clinton administration supports the bill. -30-