Over the last few years, a lot of the Congressional debate about the environment has been pretty partisan.
But not here.
Under the leadership of Chairman Chafee, our subcommittee chairmen, and our subcommittee ranking members, this committee has been able to keep the rhetoric to a minimum and try to resolve our differences.
As a result, we made some progress. Most significantly, we wrote a very good law reforming the Safe Drinking Water Act. It was praised by cities and towns. It was praised by environmental groups. And it received overwhelming bipartisan support.
I've been thinking about why, in contrast to other legislation, that effort was such a success.
Here's my view. The Safer Drinking Water Act was, to use a cliche, a "win-win." We didn't just reduce regulatory burdens. We also increased environmental protection, especially by expanding the public's right to know about the quality of drinking water.
Now, reducing unnecessary regulations is a good thing, in and of itself. So is increasing environmental protection. But, as a practical, political, matter, if we try to accomplish only one of these goals, but not the other, we're unlikely to achieve a consensus.
So, as we begin to consider other environmental laws, like Superfund and the Endangered Species Act, I hope we take the same approach that we took in the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Let's try to come up with a "win-win" approach, that not only makes the law less burdensome for those it regulates, but also that provides more environmental protection for the American people.
The "brownfields" legislation that we are considering today is a good example. We all talk about the environment and the economy going hand in hand. The brownfields legislation puts our words into action.
There are thousands of old vacant industrial sites all across the nation. Many of these sites have some contamination, but usually not very much. Most can be easily cleaned up and returned to productive use.
Yet most of these sites are sitting idle. Why? One reason is that developers are afraid of Superfund liability.
So the brownfields bills make it clear that developers and innocent landowners would not be subject to Superfund liability.
Both bills also provide a little seed money to states to help them get the ball rolling.
These provisions will help communities turn idle properties into new business opportunities, creating new jobs and economic growth.
That's already happening in some states like Oregon, Illinois and New Jersey. It has also happened in my home state.
In Butte, Montana, county officials, working together with the chamber of commerce, built a new visitors center in an area that was once used as a landfill. Nearby, in Anaconda, folks have worked for years to come up with a very creative approach. We're turning the site of the old smelter works into a world class golf course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, that will attract visitors from all around the country and all around the globe.
In each case, it's a "win-win" solution, good for the local economy and good for the environment. The legislation that we are considering today would mean more solutions like this.
There is another reason for passing brownfields legislation. It's the welfare reform bill that we passed last year. That bill that requires welfare recipients to find work.
That's fine. But it only works if jobs are available. The brownfields bills can play an important role in helping create jobs where they are really needed.
For these reasons, brownfields' legislation is one of the most important initiatives that we will consider this Congress.
In closing, I want to especially thank Senator Chafee and Senator Smith for accommodating myself, Senator Lautenberg, and others on this side of the dais by holding this hearing. It gets us off to a very good start.