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    Mass. Bill to Protect Fuel Companies

    Measure absolves operators from cleanup liability as long as a site was cleaned to state standards while they owned the site.

    BOSTON -- The Massachusetts state House this week approved an economic development bill that tweaked the Brownfields Act of 1998 so that corporations would be protected from future cleanup liability as long as a site was cleaned to state standards while they owned the site.

    While House leaders said the change would encourage the redevelopment of hundreds more idle commercial and industrial sites which are contaminated, opponents said it would let corporate polluters off the hook under some circumstances. Brownfields was intended to breathe economic life back into hundreds of vacant, industrial properties where oil or other hazardous materials have been left, according to The Boston Globe.

    The law targets those sites which have not been designated Superfund sites, where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oversees a cleanup of uncontrolled waste. A company is given financial assistance and in some circumstances protection from lawsuits to help clean the site.

    While state officials say that Brownfields has been successful in cleaning up more than 400 sites statewide, some House lawmakers say the law should be changed to give more incentives to corporations to clean up. Under the original Brownfields law, polluters were separated into two classes. The first class were the minor polluters such as gas station owners, who were given protection from being sued for future discoveries of contamination as long as they cleaned up the property to state Department of Environmental Protection standards while they owned the property.

    Now, officials say, the bill would eliminate the distinction between corporations and minor polluters, allowing big companies to get relief from liability by simply cleaning the property to DEP standards, without the attorney general's involvement.

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