Two groups are working on a new voluntary standard to protect banks from environmental liability.

Robert Morris Associates and the American Society for Testing and Materials joined forces last week to develop guidelines that would, if adopted, give bankers a defense in court.

Bankers have been uncertain about environmental liability since Feb. 4, when a federal appeals court overturned a rule that had limited their exposure.

Although a Superfund reform measure pending in Congress has provisions that would protect lenders, that legislation is not expected to pass this year.

"Bankers are scared," said Sue Wharton, assistant director of research at Robert Morris. "They don't know what they can and cannot do." She said a banker who follows the guidelines could show he was not directly involved in managing a property and, therefore, is not responsible for environmental cleanup. The overturned rule protected banks on that basis.

A team from the two trade groups plans to submit a first draft by June 30 to the testing and materials society, which is known for developing voluntary standards in many areas, including lead poisoning.

The guidelines are to be evaluated by about 150 society members. Ms. Wharton said it takes a two-thirds majority vote to adopt a standard. In addition, she said, all concerns raised by members will be addressed in the next draft.

Ms. Wharton said she expects a final version of the guidelines to be released this fall.

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