Thursday, May 16, 2002

Brownfield cleanup eases liability rule

New option involves EPA early in process

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — Businesses now can choose to decontaminate former industrial sites through a new part of a brownfield cleanup program that will give them both the state's promise of no future lawsuits and the federal government's stamp of approval.

        The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday another way to clean up brownfields under the Voluntary Action Program. It allows Ohio businesses to decontaminate polluted sites and be freed from most civil liability once the state gives the site its approval.

        Under the new part of the VAP, businesses also can receive the U.S. EPA's endorsement of the sites as long as the Ohio EPA gets involved earlier in the process and there is more public input than the VAP program currently has.

        Businesses cleaning up under the traditional VAP still would not have to provide information about site investigations and cleanups to Ohio EPA until the work is done.

        The new option is based on an agreement the Ohio and U.S. EPAs made last summer about the VAP, which has helped to decontaminate at least 130 polluted sites since 1997.

        Officials from Ohio and U.S. EPAs hope the federal endorsement will help persuade developers who feared federal interference to proceed in redeveloping brownfields.

        Linda Oros, a spokeswoman with Ohio EPA, said the state is interested to see how many businesses choose the new option.

        “I can see where there would be advantages or disadvantages to either part of the program,” Ms. Oros said. “There are situations where both apply. Which way to go depends on the property and what the company wants to accomplish at the site.”

        Bruce Cornett, director of Green Environmental Coalition, an advocacy organization based in Yellow Springs, said the lack of public input in the current VAP has held up brownfield cleanups in Ohio.

        “With the new option, this is more public of a process, Ohio EPA is there every step of the way, and the federal government will say you've done it the right way,” he said. “It can only help the process.”


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