(Hanley-Wood News Service) - Congress last week passed brownfields legislation that the National Association of Realtors said will foster clean-up and redevelopment of old industrial property sites. The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate last week passed a bill giving states and localities up to $250 million a year for five years to clean up polluted industrial sites. The bill, the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act, also shields innocent developers from liability for toxic wastes that existed at a site prior to the purchase of the property. NAR has supported brownfields legislation for many years and passage of this legislation was a top priority for the association.

"We're thrilled that Congress has finally passed brownfields legislation, which represents a major victory for Realtors everywhere. This much-needed legislation will help the real estate industry effectively clean up and redevelop hundreds of thousands of brownfield sites. Cleaning-up hazardous waste sites and redeveloping them for commercial and residential use makes good sense for the environment, the economy and communities," said NAR President Martin Edwards Jr.

The legislation was introduced by Reps. Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Ranking Member John Dingell (D-Mich.) reportedly supported the legislation, according to NAR.

The House bill was modeled after the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act that passed the Senate 99-0 in April.

President Bush has stated his intention to sign the legislation, according to NAR.

Brownfields are defunct, derelict or abandoned commercial or industrial sites, many of which are tainted with toxic wastes. Liability concerns and a lack of funding have been among the obstacles to the redevelopment of these properties. The U.S. General Accounting Office has said there may be more than 500,000 brownfields across the country.

NAR said environmentalists, developers, civic and political leaders, urban theorists, academics and real estate brokers and managers favor reclaiming brownfields for residential and commercial development. These sites often are near prime real estate and have access to existing infrastructure, labor and other resources. Redevelopment can create jobs, increase the tax base, ease traffic congestion, justify investment in mass transit and provide new housing, according to the Realtors? group.