Under a slew of different laws that have been passed by Congress over the years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has leveraged a total of almost $20 billion worth of funding from public and private sources to support the cleanup of contaminated properties known as brownfields.
To date, more than 20,000 properties have been assessed through the EPA’s brownfields program and at least 850 of these sites have been successfully cleaned. However, with between 450,000 and 1 million brownfields still spread across the United States, it seems clear that the right remediation solutions could unlock significant opportunities to spur economic development in communities all over the country.
Citing the sheer volume of polluted property in the country, a group of senators is currently advocating for passage of the Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development (BUILD) Act, which would bolster federal support for brownfields remediation in several ways.
BUILD Act would bolster funding and support a full-cycle approach to brownfields cleanup
A key aspect of the proposed legislation is that it would authorize the EPA to provide grants of up to $950,000 to cover multiple stages of the remediation process. Currently, organizations are obligated to apply for separate grants at each stage of the cleanup process, which can prolong remediation projects, inflate costs and derail development opportunities.
Enabling brownfield owners to secure funding upfront for all stages of the process, from initial assessments to the completion of cleanup work, would provide a heightened level of certainty that would facilitate project planning and make these sites more attractive to developers.
The BUILD Act would also increase the funding ceiling for remediation grants from $200,000 to $500,000 and allow the EPA administrator to waive this limit and provide up to $650,000 for sites that require additional resources due to their size, ownership status or level of contamination. This change could be critical in facilitating the effective cleanup of properties that require considerable remediation, as the nonpartisan Northeast-Midwest Institute has estimated that the average cost for revitalizing a brownfield is $602,000.
Also, waterfront sites would be prioritized, while eligibility for receiving site assessment grants would be extended to nonprofit organizations and local governments that acquired contaminated properties before the creation of the brownfields program.
Analogous legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives, although it remains unclear whether the legislation will move forward in the Republican-controlled chamber, which is currently considering a bill that would reduce the EPA’s funding by 34 percent.
Despite budgetary uncertainty, EPA continues to fund brownfields cleanups in the Southeast
In mid-July, the EPA announced that it would provide $15 million worth of grants to supplement the funding already available through its revolving loan funds. Subsequently, the agency declared that it would dedicate an additional $1.3 million to four communities in the Southeast.
This is the most recent in a series of commitments to support brownfield remediation in the region. In May, the EPA awarded a total of more than $13 million to numerous state and local governments throughout the Southeast.
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