October 01, 2002

Maryland Brownfield

3 min

Following the trend of other states and EPA, Maryland lawmakers have been hard at work to develop legislation that would provide incentives, clearer standards, and protection against liability for persons who undertake to clean up contaminated property, so-called “brownfield” sites. In this past legislative session, which ended on April 8, separate bills were passed in the Maryland House of Delegates and the State Senate to establish comprehensive brownfield programs. Although the two bills had many similarities, there were significant differences which a conference committee was unable to reconcile prior to the end of the session. Thus there will be no brownfield legislation in Maryland this year.

The basic concepts in the two bills were the same. Each established a voluntary cleanup and a financial incentive program. Properties contaminated with hazardous waste was eligible for the program, with certain exceptions such as Superfund sites or those involved in enforcement proceedings. Owners, lenders, and prospective purchasers participated by obtaining approval of a response action plan, which would document existing contamination, specify a cleanup standard, and provide a schedule for cleanup implementation.

Both bills provided for alternative cleanup standards, including natural background, state-wide numeric standards which would vary for industrial and residential areas, standards based on site-specific risk assessments, or other applicable state or federal cleanup standards. The two bills also established financial incentives for the cleanup of up to 125 sites a year deemed prime for revitalization because of factors such as the absence of a solvent and responsible owner, urban location, capacity to create jobs, or general redevelopment benefit to the community. Persons selected to clean up such sites would be eligible for low interest rate loans, grants and property tax credits.

The House Bill was developed by the business community and was designed to promote voluntary cleanups on as broad a basis as possible; the Senate Bill, on the other hand, had its chief sponsorship in the environmental community, which had little interest in encouraging cleanups by persons responsible for causing contamination.The conference committee was unable to reconcile the two bills because of this basic philosophical difference, which translated into substantially different approaches in several areas of the legislation. For example, under the House Bill, the only limitation on persons eligible for voluntary cleanups or financial incentives was a showing of criminal violations of the hazardous waste laws. The Senate Bill, on the other hand, placed stringent limitations on the participation in both the voluntary and the incentive programs on persons responsible for causing any property contamination, whether negligently or otherwise. The House Bill provided for liability releases upon the approval of a cleanup plan by the Maryland Department of the Environment, which would remain in effect so long as the plan was being implemented; under the Senate Bill such a release could be obtained only upon the satisfactory completion of the plan.

The legislation will be introduced again next year. With the experience gained from this past session, it is be hoped that the two camps will be able to bridge their differences so that Maryland can put itself on a parity with its competitor states, such as Pennsylvania and Virginia, which have passed and are implementing brownfields legislation as a substantial boost to areas in need of economic revitalization.