President signs $1.2 billion legislation to clean up polluted industrial sites

Friday, January 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. (AP) _ President Bush signed legislation Friday to clean up thousands of polluted industrial sites, a measure he lauded as evidence of what happens ``when people decide to cooperate, not bicker'' in Congress.

Bush traveled to Conshohocken to sign the bill, a five-year plan to provide up to $250 million a year to states, local governments and Indian tribes to clean up the sites, known as brownfields.

``We are returning common sense to our cleanup program,'' Bush said. ``We will protect innocent small-business owners and employees from unfair lawsuits and focus our efforts instead on actually cleaning up contaminated sites.

``Environmental protection and economic growth can go on together,'' he said.

The president cited the brownfields bill as an example of bipartisanship, in which elected officials say, ``I'm proud of my political party. But I'm more proud of my country. And I want ... to do what's right for America first, not my political party.''

Friday's trip was the seventh time Bush has visited Pennsylvania since taking office a year ago. It was his second journey this week away from Washington for a bill signing; Tuesday, the president went to Ohio to sign education legislation into law.

Outside of the bill being signed, the Bush administration plans to double spending next year on brownfields cleanup. Christie Whiteman, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said Thursday that Bush, in his 2003 budget proposal, will seek $102 million more than the $98 million Congress appropriated this year.

``This is something Congress was trying to get for 10 years,'' Whitman told The Associated Press. ``The president made a commitment and we're trying to get it done.''

After raising the spending level to $200 million, Whitman said, the administration may propose spending $250 million in fiscal 2004.

So far the government has handed out $2 million of the $98 million available this year, said Linda Garczynski, director of the EPA brownfields program. Ten recipients, ranging from nonprofit groups to local governments such as the District of Columbia, are getting $200,000 each for a brownfields job training pilot program.

The EPA has received more than 100 applications from states and other entities seeking money to assess the extent of pollution on individual brownfield sites. Thirty-two of those will be awarded money.

The agency also has gotten more than 40 applications for money to help secure loans for cleanups, and 20 to 25 of those requests will be granted, Garczynski said.

The money is handed out based on how many sites are involved, the severity of problems and the impact the project might have on a community, among other factors, she said.