EPA offers new resources to aid auto communities with remediation and redevelopment

auto communities

The decline of the automotive manufacturing industry in the United States has left many communities with abandoned buildings and vast tracts of land that are not suitable for redevelopment due to high levels of residual contamination. Through its Brownfields and Land Revitalization Programs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has sought to create new economic opportunities at these blighted properties by funding cleanup projects and providing capital to developers who are positioned to market the real estate.

Earlier this month, the agency released a toolkit that offers information on how government officials at the local level can access federal resources to remediate and revitalize contaminated areas in their jurisdiction.

‘Roadmap’ details challenges and opportunities in auto communities

The EPA’s “Roadmap for Auto Community Revitalization” includes dozens of case studies and information about different types of financial, operational and administrative aid that is available, including tax incentives and various agency programs. Cities and towns with large-scale remediation needs are encouraged to realize that there are “many roads to revitalization.” For instance, some communities may be able to repurpose existing industrial assets for new manufacturing opportunities, while others may be best served by cleaning their polluted sites to turn them into “green” community areas.

One key part of the revitalization strategy advocated by the EPA is cooperation. In its report, the agency urges municipal leaders to reach out to a wide range of potential stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. The document itself was produced through a collaborative effort involving multiple federal agencies, the Department of Labor and private foundations such as the Manufacturing Alliance of Communities.

In a press release introducing the roadmap, Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, said he hoped the agency’s work would help “pave the way to a more prosperous future for local communities.”

“The case studies and success stories show strategies for cleaning and redeveloping these sites that could inspire communities across the nation to take on these challenges and revitalize their auto Brownfields sites,” Stanislaus said.

Jay Williams, executive director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Recovery for Automotive Communities and Workers, added that although “the road to recovery for automotive communities is filled with challenges … with those challenges come opportunities”

The report touted a number of specific stories, including a project in Oklahoma City, the success of which prompted Mayor Mick Cornett to say that cities struggling with the economic and environmental aftermath of an auto plant closure “cannot look back” or allow themselves to remain content with the status quo. Cornett said that only by focusing on new opportunities can cities like his revitalize blighted areas and reap the fruits of redevelopment.

Outreach to auto communities builds on success of Brownfields Program

In total, the EPA estimates that its Brownfields Program has leveraged as much as $20 billion worth of funding from public and private sources, resulting in the assessment of more than 20,000 properties and the complete remediation of more than 850.

These projects have produced tangible benefits for the communities in which they have been completed. For example, in a previous post, this blog examined how a remediation project in Baltimore has cleared the way for new development in the city.

The EPA is also encouraging property owners and developers to pursue opportunities to site renewable energy facilities on lands that have gone unused due to contamination. In August, the agency released an updated version of its RE-Powering Mapping and Screening Tool, which now provides information about the potential to generate wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy at approximately 66,000 polluted properties in the United States.

Lawmakers have also been considering legislation that would raise the limit for remediation grants and allow agency funding to be used to directly support renewable energy projects. The Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development (BUILD) Act would also encourage developers to take a full-cycle approach to remediation by allowing them to apply for grants that could be used to fund multiple stages of cleanup projects.

The latter point is essential, as the EPA’s revitalization roadmap points out that successful redevelopment requires stakeholders to “begin with the end in mind” and involve as many stakeholders as possible by connecting the project to broader priorities. This is why, when local officials or private property owners begin thinking about a cleanup strategy, they need to partner with independent consultants who have experience dealing with all aspects of remediation, from initial assessments to post-project monitoring and reporting.

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