On April 21, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields program.
Committee members on both sides of the aisle expressed support for the program’s success at revitalizing neighborhoods and spurring economic development.
Brownfields are vacant sites — such as former gas stations, dry cleaning facilities, or salvage yards — where potential ground contamination inhibits the land’s redevelopment. Developers fear liability if they should improperly cleanup contaminated land and thus often avoid these properties altogether. As a result, they tend to stand empty and abandoned. Every congressional district in the country includes at least one brownfield site.
Through its Brownfields program, the EPA provides grants to communities to assess contamination levels at these sites and clean them for redevelopment. The program has been highly successful at leveraging local investment in redevelopment projects, and there are countless examples of these types of projects spurring economic revitalization in neighborhoods across the country.
In 2002, Congress created the Brownfields program through the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act. However, that authorization expired in 2006. While appropriators in Congress have apportioned some funding to the program since then, they have done so without a formal authorization.
In the Senate, the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act of 2015 (S. 1479) reauthorizes and updates the program. It makes some important changes to the original law. For instance, it allows nonprofit entities to apply for grant funding, something not permitted previously. It also increases the funding cap for remediation grants. The language of S. 1479 was incorporated into broad energy legislation, S. 2012, which passed the Senate in mid-April. It was also recently marked up in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as a standalone bill, and the committee reported it favorably for future consideration on the Senate floor.
In the House Energy and Commerce hearing, EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus stressed the countless successes of the program. Specifically, he told them that the $12 million allocated for area-wide planning grants has leveraged an astonishing $354 million in other public and private resources.
Stanislaus highlighted the need for a substantial increase in funding for the program and updates to the original law. Currently, the EPA can fund only 25 to 30 percent of submitted grant applications, indicating substantial demand around the country for these dollars.
He also expressed support for the inclusion of nonprofits as eligible entities to receive grant funding, pointing out that they are often better equipped to manage cleanup and redevelopment projects than local governments in smaller or more rural communities where resources tend to be more limited.
Now, S. 2012, including the Brownfields reauthorization language, is slated to go to conference with a House energy bill, H.R. 8, that does not currently include any Brownfields reauthorization language. House members on both sides of the aisle who expressed support for this program in the hearing must now follow through on that support to ensure a reauthorization is included in any final package.
About the Author
Kirsten Holland is policy associate at Advocacy Associates.
Top image: Townhomes on a former brownfield site in New Jersey. Photo from Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).