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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Brownfields Summit, Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Brownfields Summit
Washington, D.C.

June 18, 2001

Thank you, Ken (Cornell), for that introduction.

I want to thank the U.S. Chamber and AIG Environmental for convening this third annual Brownfields Summit. The importance you place on this topic reflects your belief – and mine – that reclaiming America’s brownfields is a top environmental priority in America today.

I am optimistic that this event will help produce tangible environmental and economic benefits for America’s communities – and not just for the contacts that are being made here today and the ideas that are being shared. What’s even more exciting is the contribution you are making to achieving the critical mass we need here in Washington to ensure the passage of broad brownfields legislation this year.

There’s no doubt that there has already been real progress in brownfields reclamation. To date, EPA has helped leverage more than $3.2 billion in economic development and has generated more than 12,000 jobs at more than 2,500 brownfield sites across the country. But thousands more sites remain to be reclaimed.

For too long, in too many communities, parcels of once-productive land have lain vacant because current law has often made it difficult to reuse them. These brownfields – which litter the landscape all across our country – are not just environmental eyesores, they are also unhappy monuments to the law of unintended consequences.

We have found in many cases that laws designed to protect communities from pollution from closed or abandoned facilities have had the unexpected effect of leaving too many of those facilities unclean and unreclaimed. In an effort to preserve the environment we have too often, in the cases of brownfields, ended up preserving only the status quo.

I believe, however, that this situation can change – and change for the better. This year we have the best opportunity yet to enact the broad brownfields legislation President Bush called for during the campaign last year.

The need for such legislation could not be clearer, as you know better than most. You have seen, as I have, the abandoned gas stations, the vacant manufacturing facilities, and the other deteriorating sites that mar our communities, stunting their future by denying them the possibility of productive use.

Only through brownfields legislation can we fully unleash the potential these sites have. In many cases, these sites can contribute to the prosperity of the towns in which they are located, improving the tax base and providing jobs. They can help prevent the spread of sprawl, by providing locations in places that already have the infrastructure needed to support growth. And they can enrich the lives of their communities in other ways, maybe as a rec facility or a ballfield.

Hiding under the scars of every brownfield in America is, perhaps, a future doctor’s office, or neighborhood store, or community park. It’s time to turn these brownfields into fields of dreams.

I want to take just a minute to share with you what principles the President and I believe that brownfields legislation should include.

It should provide redevelopers with protection from federal Superfund liability.

It should provide the states with the resources and authority they need to run their own brownfields programs while ensuring that the cleanups they oversee are fully protective of human health and the environment.

It should allow EPA to work with the states to ensure they use high, but flexible cleanup standards, while reserving EPA’s ability to enforce those standards when necessary.

It should streamline the federal brownfields grant process and provide maximum flexibility for the use of those grants and it should focus additional research and development efforts on finding new brownfields cleanup technologies and techniques.

Finally, the brownfields tax incentive should be made a permanent part of the tax code.

Based on these principles, brownfields legislation will give you and your counterparts across America the tools needed to get the job done. It will remove barriers that have been put in the way. It will, in short, make all of us true partners in pursuit of a common goal – transforming these environmental eyesores into true community assets for the people who live and work near them.

I am pleased that brownfields legislation is moving through the Congress. In April, the Senate unanimously passed Senators Chafee and Smith’s brownfields bill. That was an enormous step forward. Now, we look forward to working with Chairman Gilmore and his colleagues in the House to send to the President’s desk the legislation he seeks.

I also do not believe that this legislation should be held hostage to Superfund reform. Such reform is necessary – but there’s no reason we cannot move brownfield legislation on a separate track. I hope we can count on your support in getting this done.

As head of the EPA, I’ve made passage of brownfields legislation a top priority. But I’m no johnny-come-lately to this issue. I am a long-time believer in the need for action at the federal level because I’ve seen in my home state, New Jersey, what support for brownfields redevelopment at the state level can accomplish.

When I was governor, we did at the state level for brownfields much of what this legislation will do at the federal level. We gave our mayors the tools, and let them go to work – and the results have been remarkable.

I understand you heard from my friend, Christian Bollwage, the mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey, a little earlier today. His hometown is the site of an enormously successful brownfields reclamation project. In Elizabeth, a 166-acre landfill was transformed into the Jersey Gardens Mall, triggering more than $200 million in private investment, generating $5 million in new tax revenue, and creating 5,000 jobs.

In Holmdel, New Jersey, the site of an abandoned Dixie Cups plant will soon contain an office building, a 20-store retail center, and more than 250 adult and assisted living housing units.

But New Jersey is not, of course, alone.

I visited a site in Keene, New Hampshire last month with Senator Bob Smith where a former tannery that has been vacant for nearly 15 years will be returned to the tax rolls thanks to brownfields support from the State and the EPA.

And earlier this spring, I stood in a vacant, weed-choked lot in Washington. D.C., where, thanks to the commitment of Mayor Williams and assistance from the EPA, a new neighborhood supermarket and other needed retail facilities will be built for local residents.

But these hard-won success stories are too often the exception. We need to make them the rule.

That’s what we are working with Congress to achieve. I have testified before Congress, I have met with numerous members of the House and Senate, and I have taken this message on the road to cities and states across America. When this legislation passes the Congress and the President signs it into law, we will see even more brownfields blossom all over America.

This Administration is committed to making brownfields not just a legacy of the past but a thing of the past. With your help, we can achieve that goal.

Thank you.