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July 31, 2001

 





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Article published July 31, 2001


State, U.S. pact prods firms to clean up urban pollution

By JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF


COLUMBUS - Federal and state officials will sign an agreement today that could entice more businesses to analyze whether urban land is polluted and then clean it up.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. EPA have worked since October, 1999, on the pact, which was negotiated in reaction to federal concerns about Ohio’s "brownfield" program.

The agreement will enable businesses and local governments to choose between Ohio’s Voluntary Action Program and a new program that will require citizen involvement in cleanup plans and more oversight by state environmental regulators.

Under the program, the federal government will pledge that it won’t take legal or enforcement action unless the site poses a danger to the public.

That should remove an obstacle that has prevented some Ohio businesses from entering the Voluntary Action Program, Ohio EPA Director Chris Jones said.

Under that program, established by a 1994 state law, property owners, lenders, and developers are allowed to investigate and clean polluted sites with standards based on whether the property will be used for homes, businesses, or large industries. Old dumps and Superfund sites are not eligible for the Voluntary Action Program.

If those guidelines are met, the Ohio EPA releases the owner from state civil liability. But the U.S. EPA has refused to approve Ohio’s brownfield program.

Over the last seven years, businesses and local governments have received 79 "covenants not to sue" from the state EPA.

But Marc Conte, legislative coordinator of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club, said the state should have focused on "reforming" the action program, instead of setting up a two-track system to clean up brownfields.

"We really think we need one program and we need a good one," Mr. Conte said.

The pact will be signed by Mr. Jones and David Ullrich, U.S. EPA deputy regional administrator, five days after Governor Taft signs a bill that will guide how the state distributes bond proceeds to help clean up brownfields.


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