WASHINTON, DC-Before recessing for the year Congress approved an annual $250 million package through Fiscal Year 2006 for the conservation of the approximately 450,000 brownfields — abandoned commercial and industrial properties — in areas throughout the nation. After being amended in the US House of Representatives, The Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act has unanimously passed through the US Senate without amendment.

The funds will allow local governments to clean up these contaminated sites, and it will also protect innocent developers from liability on properties that were polluted prior to purchase. Environmental groups, public land organizations and realtors alike praise Congressional leaders for passing what is considered landmark legislation. “In passing the [act],” explains The Trust for Public Land Senior Vice President Alan Front, “Congress passed the only major piece of environmental legislation this year.” National Association of Realtor President Martin Edwards Jr. adds, “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, good sense for the economy and good sense for communities.”

Meanwhile, the US Senate has left commercial insurance policy holders in the lurch for the dawn of 2002, its session without passing terror insurance legislation. Without a federal backstop for insurers against future terrorism claims, those companies seeking to establish or renew policies with terrorism coverage in the new year will likely be subjected to enormous rate hikes, or no access to terrorism coverage at all. The effects on commercial property owners, lenders and contractors could be disastrous for the industry, as well as for the nation’s economy.

About 70% of commercial insurance contracts will expire at midnight on December 31. Insurers suffered a loss of about $40 billion due to the September 11 attacks. In a statement on the situation, US Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill says already, “insurance premiums for people who had to do renewals for property and casualty since Sept. 11 have doubled and tripled and more because of the uncertainty created by the lack of a federal legislative framework for dealing with the cost of terrorist acts.”

The news that the Senate did not reach an agreement comes as a blow to the commercial industry after hopes of securing a federal backstop against future terrorism claims were bolstered in November when the US House of Representatives passed its version of terror insurance, the Terrorism Risk Protection Act. That legislation called for a yearlong program in which the government would be responsible for 90% of an insurance payment exceeding $100 million for small commercial insurers.

By most accounts, it was politics that got in the Senate’s way of passing its version of risk-sharing legislation. Republicans wanted to disallow terrorist victim lawsuits against businesses, but Democrats wanted to leave that door open. As a result of the Senate’s stalemate, state insurance regulators announced they will give insurance companies nationwide the option to refuse coverage of terrorist attack claims in 2002 exceeding $25 million. But insurers and policyholders alike are eagerly awaiting the Senate’s return, in hopes that members will succeed in passing terror legislation at the start of the New Year. The Senate reconvenes with a live quorum on January 23.

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