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Public Statements

Brownfields Redevelopment Enhancement Act

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Location: Washington, DC


BROWNFIELDS REDEVELOPMENT ENHANCEMENT ACT -- (House of Representatives - December 13, 2005)

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I know that our colleague from California (Mr. Gary G. Miller) was en route here, and that is appropriate because he has been a major proponent of this bill. He and I have worked together on it.

What we do here is to frankly allow cities, municipalities, to do more to clean up brownfield sites. Surprisingly, initially we ran into some jurisdictional objections, I think based on turf, I guess, in this case, almost literally on turf, from some people who were kind of proponents of the EPA's role there.

I should make it very clear, to the extent that the Environmental Protection Agency can clean up these sites, wonderful. Mayors are not asking for the right to take funds for which they have a large number of demand and divert them into projects that would be otherwise done by the EPA, but there are occasions where we know the EPA does not have the money it ought to have.

I regret the fact that Congress earlier, the majority then in control, decided to end the taxation that we levied on the oil companies to provide funds for EPA. EPA has not got enough money, and we do not give it enough in the appropriations process. So I regret that, and I want to do all that I can to include it, but I do not want to tell a city because we have not given enough money to the EPA that the city is precluded from going forward cleaning up their brownfields.

I also want to talk a little bit about the public sector/private sector issue here. We hear a lot about the value of the private sector, and it is often put in the context of the private sector versus the public sector, with people being critical of the public sector. There are times when the public sector and elements of it do not do well. There are times when the private sector does not, but understand what we are talking about here.

Brownfields are overwhelmingly the product of private sector activity. Brownfields is a somewhat neutral term for ugly, messy stuff, pollutants, chemicals and other things that I guess turn the green grass brown, that turn the earth into an unpleasant situation.

The private sector companies that did that were not bad people. Most of them, a couple of bad people sneak in everywhere, but they really believed that it was their job to do it. They were producing various goods, and the processes used to produce various goods will sometimes produce pollutants.

What we have here with brownfields are situations overwhelmingly where a private sector entity made money by producing certain goods and then went out of business, moved away, moved overseas and left behind quite literally a physical problem in the city. What we are saying here is we are recognizing that the public sector has to step in and clean that up.

In some cases, under environmental law, we try to get private sector, responsible parties, to contribute, but sometimes, they are not around to do that. They have not got the money. They are just not there. Let us be clear. This is a recognition of the need for a well-funded public sector operation to literally clean up the messes left behind by the private sector. This is an example in my mind of how in a rational society seeking the right quality of life, public and private sectors each will have an important role, and they will be cooperative.

I regret that fact that because we had a rule about no new programs that the pilot projects that would have allowed the Secretary of HUD to make some grants to explicitly combine cleaning up the brownfields with subsequent economic development on that cleaned-up site, that that was stricken from the bill. I know the gentleman from California has said, and I appreciate this, that he and I will continue to push for that. I hope that next year we may get that authorized as a separate bill.

What we are doing here is to free up any restrictions on the community development block grant program. One problem in the past was that if cities wanted to use their CDBG funds, they had to do it through a program called section 108 which required them to kind of roll their CDBG funds for many years. This allows them more flexibility. It allows us if we can get some appropriations into this to give them some money so they can also get things cleaned up.

It is, as I said, arming the mayors and local officials with a new set of tools to take areas of their city that have been despoiled by past private sector practices and make them available for the kinds of uses that will help enhance the quality of life, the economic and other kinds of activities in the city.

I just want to pay tribute here to the mayor of the city of New Bedford, Fred Kalisz, a long-serving mayor in the largest city in my district, who is leaving office in a few weeks. It was his advocacy to a great extent that called this issue to my attention, and he will be leaving, but I am very pleased that, as he leaves, we will be passing, and I hope soon the President will sign into law a bill that responds to one of the needs that he identified

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute, and I appreciate the gentleman from Ohio making that point. Yes, a great many of these activities, probably most of them, were legal at the time. And I think that is an important point.

Society's mores change and customs change; and we are talking about, in many cases, businesses and, in some cases, government with waste disposal that were doing things entirely legal at the time, not fully cognizant of the consequences; and it sometimes falls to later generations literally to clean up.

These things were often things that were legal, not done by bad people, but people who were following the rules at the time; and I think it is fashionable to lament the deterioration of society all the time. This is an example, the whole brownfields approach of higher standards, of the decision of society today not only not to accept some of the things that used to happen but literally to clean them up.

Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as she may consume to the gentlewoman from New York (Mrs. Maloney).

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 2 minutes.

The gentlewoman from New York reminded me that a lot of these things that are very broadly supported require money. And just as we have seen a cutting off of funding of the EPA, this administration, sadly, has been trying to cut back the funds for the brownfields program.

And indeed I have a rare opportunity in which I can congratulate the Appropriations Committee under the control of the majority because they had the good sense to reject a proposal by this administration to rescind this coming year's money for the brownfields program because they said they needed to deal with it to offset the problems in Katrina.

So this strong support for this brownfields program comes at a very good time, because it is a strong voice of support, I believe on a bipartisan basis, from the Appropriations Committee in repudiating that very ill-thought-out effort by the administration to rescind all of its money.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. OXLEY. Mr. Speaker, in closing, let me again recognize a few individuals. GARY MILLER of California, the author of this legislation, has been just dogged in his determination to get this legislation passed. Unfortunately, his plane was delayed coming from California today and so was unable to participate in the debate.

I also want to thank PAUL GILLMOR for his dogged efforts on this, and I appreciate also the cooperation of the ranking member, the gentleman from Massachusetts, and Mrs. Maloney for their efforts.

It has been 4 years since we began working on this legislation, and I have to say that these are the kinds of bills that do not get a whole lot of attention. They are not overly controversial, but they do a lot of good. They will have a very positive impact on a lot of communities throughout the country.

We debate this under the suspension of the rules, so you will not hear a lot of hue and cry in the media about it. But at the end of the day, it is Congress at its best doing the kind of work we need to do.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Speaker, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. OXLEY. I yield to the gentleman from Massachusetts.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. I would just say that they have one other advantage: they are sufficiently uncomplicated to get the United States Senate to act on them.

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