I believe that the problems associated with brownfields are twofold: first, at many of these sites we simply do not know what level of environmental contamination, if any, exists. By providing funding for environmental characterization, many of the sites with limited or no contamination can be quickly returned to productive reuse. Second, at many of these sites, the current owners, including municipalities that have taken these properties via tax lien, are aware that some environmental contamination exists, but fear to redevelop the sites for fear of being caught in the web of Superfund liability.
While many of these owners are willing to clean up these sites under state voluntary cleanup programs, they are tremendously fearful of getting sucked into Superfund. What they want is certainity. They want one entity in charge of the cleanups; they want to have a clear and consistent set of cleanup standards; and they want to know, at the end of the day, after they have cleaned up the site according to the agreed requirements, that they do not have to fear unlimited future liability. I believe this fear is well founded and one that Congress needs to address. If we do not deal with this matter, companies will continue to fence these older landholdings, and site their new facilities at pristine locations -- so-called "greenfield" sites.
The issue of brownfields redevelopment has long been an important one for both Republicans and Democrats. The commitment of both sides is also underscored by the fact that both parties introduced legislation affecting brownfields as part of the "top 20 agenda" for the Senate. (S.8, the Superfund Cleanup Acceleration Act, and S.18, the Community Empowerment Act of 1997).
Given the discussions that I and my staff have had with various members of this Committee, I think there is general agreement that we should work hard to address these and other difficult Superfund related issues this year. Although we were not successful in our efforts to comprehensively reauthorize Superfund last Congress, I was very heartened by the positive negotiations that my staff and that of Senator Chafee had with representatives of Senators Lautenberg and Baucus, as well as representatives of the Clinton Administration, on many of these same issues. Working together, I hope we will continue to make progress, and I would like to thank my colleagues, in advance, for their very cooperative comments in this regard.
Today we will hear from concerned representatives of Federal, State and local organizations and from businesses large and small. I want to take the opportunity in advance to thank the witnesses for coming today. By the end of their testimony, I am sure we will have a clearer picture of the problems before us.