A perfect example of why Congress should rewrite environmental cleanup laws to protect financial institutions is found in Salt Lake City, Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said Thursday.
He said that 15 years ago, a Salt Lake bank financed a Toyota dealership. The land to be used was pollution-free. But two years ago, the owners defaulted on the loan.The bank took over the land - but found oil had leaked from an underground storage tank. The bank was forced by the government to pay $400,000 to clean it up. It has also been unable to sell the land because others fear the Environmental Protection Agency may require more cleanup.
Garn told the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Ocean and Water Protection that such environmental problems are robbing money set aside to bail out failing savings and loans. But a bill he has introduced would remedy that.
Garn's bill would exempt financial institutions - and the government's Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Resolution Trust Corporation - from paying environmental cleanup costs on property they obtain through foreclosures, as long as they were not responsible for pollution.
"They should not be required to bear the cost of the cleanup," Garn said. "It should be the true owners and operators - not the lender, not the agency taking over the failed bank or thrift. If they cannot pay, then we have Superfund, which was created for the purpose of paying clean-up costs when responsible parties cannot be located."
He added, "If (the EPA's) Superfund does not have the resources to handle the problem, the solution is for Congress to find the funding - but not by raiding the RTC and FDIC funds."
The ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, Garn urged quick action on his bill to stop the situation from further inflating costs of the S&L bailout. "The sooner we address the injustice, the better."