By KRISTA CHAMBERS
Capital News Service
LANSING — How clean is “clean”?
State environment officials and legislators are working through what they hope are final refinements to clear up previously vague sections of laws to help industrial property be developed.
Laws known as the Part 201 Legislation were put into place in 1995 with the intention of improving environmental quality on properties while also allowing industrial growth.
In the past, environmental laws had gone into effect at federal, state and local levels that had businesses cleaning up contamination on their properties, regardless of which owner, past or present, created the contamination and what laws were in effect at the time of purchase.
The environmental bills introduced caused controversy between the environment and the economy, as the costs of cleaning are high.
With the Part 201 legislation, the new owner of a property can have a Baseline Environmental Assessment (BEA) that holds the previous owner of the property liable for any contamination on the property prior to the new owner’s arrival.
The Part 201 Rules further define vague areas of the Part 201 Legislation. They are being worked through and finished for the end of the year.
“Environmental laws affect industry a great deal,” said Bill Burton, assistant director of the Department of Environmental Quality. “The more environmental regulations a business has to satisfy, the higher the cost, and, subsequently, the higher the cost of the product.”
Burton said the Part 201 legislation changes made to previous environmental bills helped businesses make more certain decisions when purchasing or selling land.
“It removes a barrier for people who are afraid to buy land because of high cleanup costs,” he said. “No one wants to buy a liability. These changes are quite beneficial, especially to older areas who haven’t seen growth.”
The new laws help define liability and cost, Burton said.
The biggest problem for environmental experts and business owners has been defining the word “clean,” said Barry Cargill, vice president of government relations of the Small Business Association of Michigan.
“Urban property was not being sold because with a sale, there were huge costs involved for cleaning up the property,” he said. “The current owner would have to spend large amounts of money to clean up contamination that may or may not have been caused by them. Many times, these businesses were selling buildings because they were bankrupt, and there was no way they could afford the clean-ups, so the buildings sat vacant.”
Cargill said the high number of vacant buildings caused new laws that changed some of the standards for businesses.
“These laws caused everyone to ask how clean ‘clean’ was,” he said. “Urban pollution standards had to be looked at, and the laws were changed. Now, a building can be sold if no one is drinking the ground water, and the liability of environmental cleanliness stays with the previous owner. These changes have allowed cities to develop.”
Bill Karpuk is quality assurance manager at Plating Specialties in Madison Heights, a business that has been there 28 years and has seen many changes in environmental law. Still, he thinks the changes are a good thing for the most part.
“We have to look into the future with things we do that affect the environment,” he said. “The laws we put in today will affect our children and their kids. Things will be better off if we think about these things now.”
William Burke, a commercial broker for BBA Associates in Taylor, works closely with businesses and environmental experts to stay up to date on environmental laws and how they will affect business owners, employees and those in the community.
“These laws are there for good reasons,” he said. “They make people aware, but it still doesn’t make government bureaucracy make sense or run any better. The important thing is that everyone is safe, and businesses and can afford to make things safe.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By KRISTA CHAMBERS