UPDATE - Bush signs multimillion-dollar toxic cleanup law
CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. - U.S. President George W. Bush last week signed a law giving states and localities as much as $200 million a year to clean up thousands of abandoned and toxic industrial sites, turning \"eyesores into economic assets\".
For the second time in a week, Bush took a bill-signing ceremony on the road, praising the legislation as a model for how bipartisanship could win out, even as Democrats and Republicans gear up for November elections when control of the Senate and the House of Representatives is up for grabs.
\"It\'s the best of Washington, when people decide to cooperate, not bicker, when people put the national interest ahead of political interests,\" he said.
Bush flew to rain-swept Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, to sign the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act. The five-year plan provides up to $200 million annually to states, local governments and Indian tribes to clean up polluted sites, known as brownfields.
Speaking exactly four months after the Sept. 11 hijack attacks which killed more than 3,000 people, Bush turned his focus away from the U.S. anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan and onto domestic concerns.
\"We have more responsibilities than just those on the war ... we\'ve also got a lot to do here at home,\" he said, in Conshohocken where, on the banks of the Schuylkill River, he visited the 1,000th site redeveloped under a Pennsylvania land recycling program.
\"And that is, we\'ve got a responsibility of making sure every child is educated and that the environment in which our children grow up is healthy and clean.\"
On Tuesday Bush kicked off the domestic-focused new election year by signing education legislation into law in Ohio.
Bush\'s environmental image has taken a beating over his support for drilling in Alaska\'s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a project he is still pursuing through energy legislation the White House hopes will pass Congress in the coming months.
Introducing the president, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman called Bush \"one of America\'s greatest environmentalists.\"
\"All of us have a responsibility to be the stewards of our land,\" Bush said. \"When we use the land, we must do so wisely and responsibly, balancing the needs of the environment with the best interests of those who live and work on the land.\"
Bush said there were between 500,000 and 1 million brownfields across the nation \"adding nothing to the community and sometimes causing problems.\"
Cleaning them up would create more jobs, turn stagnant plots of land into productive neighborhoods and help prevent urban sprawl, he said. And for every acre of brownfield redeveloped, four and a half acres of open space could be saved.
The legislation he signed roughly doubles federal assistance to states and localities for brownfield assessment and cleanup, helps states clean up petroleum-contaminated sites and affords greater protection from lawsuits.
COMMON SENSE IN CLEANUP
Bush also backed reform of the federal government\'s handling of brownfields, echoing widespread criticism that the industrial cleanup process had become mired in excessive regulation and lawsuits.
\"The worst part, the federal government sometimes spent more time haggling over regulatory details than it did working with states and cities to fix the problem,\" Bush said.
\"The old way of doing things was to mandate, regulate and litigate ... With this bill we are returning common sense to our cleanup program.\"
Whitman later told reporters she expected robust interest in brownfield sites. Companies, deterred from redeveloping polluted areas for fear of being slapped with a lawsuit, could now invest happily, she said.
\"These sites are prime because there are places where you already have infrastructure ... and now ... the biggest hurdle has been removed,\" she said.
Outside of the bill being signed, the White House said Bush planned to ask for $102 million more for brownfields cleanup in his 2003 budget that goes to Congress early next month.
Story by Claire Soares
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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