NARC Issues Statement in Support of Brownfields

Federal brownfields redevelopment programs administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have helped communities redevelop unused or abandoned land to revitalize local communities and encourage economic development. Last month, two House panels heard from local officials how important the program has been to protecting cities and counties from liability concerns as these sites are rehabilitated and made available for redevelopment.

National League of Cities President and Cleveland Councilmember Matt Zone told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee that successes in Cleveland depended on federal support to reduce the risks to cities and developers from working with contaminated real estate.

Leon County, Florida Commissioner John Dailey, testifying on behalf of the National Association of Counties, highlighted the pivotal role counties play in brownfields redevelopment projects, as counties are often responsible for local land use planning, zoning, environmental enforcement and monitoring, and economic development.

The National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) also provided examples of the value of the program to regional councils in a statement. Since its creation, the program has provided crucial assistance to local governments for reclaiming hazardous, polluted, and underutilized properties. To date, there have been over 26,000 brownfields assessments and 1,200 brownfields cleanups nationally, which has led to over 123,000 jobs. Each of the $22 billion federal dollars that have been invested since the program was established in 2002 have leveraged approximately $16 in other investments, close to $400 billion in total.

While many communities have benefited from brownfield redevelopment efforts under this program, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates there are between 400,000 and 600,000 remaining brownfields sites throughout the United States. To build upon these past successes and assist in the cleanup, reuse, and redevelopment of remaining sites, some key improvements to the program are needed.

In the statement, NARC encouraged members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Subcommittee on Water Resources & Environment to:

  • Authorize and fully fund the Brownfields program to previously authorized levels, at a minimum.
  • Revise the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERLA) to encourage and protect local communities who choose to take ownership of blighted properties for the purpose of brownfields redevelopment where the local government had no role in creating the contamination.
  • Expand this program to help address the cleanup challenges at more complex sites, where redevelopment efforts face significant difficulty due to levels of contamination or marketplace conditions.

Regional councils across the country benefit from this wide-reaching program:

  • The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) in Kansas City, MO secured and implemented about $24.2 million of federal and state brownfields funding to leverage approximately $355.7 million in actual cleanup and new construction since 1997. MARC estimates an average return on investment of about $15 for every $1 of public funds in brownfield projects in the Kansas City two-state region.
  • In the New Orleans, LA region the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (NORPC) leveraged over $77 million in funding to clean up 27 brownfields sites and create 115 permanent jobs, in addition to numerous construction jobs. An additional 375 jobs are expected to be created from projects currently underway. In total, environmental issues at over 58 acres of vacant and abandoned land have been assessed to facilitate their redevelopment with a $1:$91 ratio for brownfield investment to redevelopment investment. NORPC focuses on sites that will spur further redevelopment and support local businesses. In addition, many of the sites are owned by nonprofits looking to fill a community need such as senior housing, schools, community meeting/ performance space, and community gardens.
  • The Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Regional Planning Commission on the Ohio-West Virginia-Pennsylvania border received almost $3 million in EPA funding for sites that would otherwise remain vacant without this program. They have leveraged over $65 million of private investment for these sites that have created 1,074 jobs. In this multi-state area, a community stakeholder group meets regularly as part of a Brownfield Task Force to select sites for performance assessments under their brownfields programs.
  • The Greater Portland Council of Governments in Maine identified 400 brownfield sites since 2009 and leveraged over $18 million from public and private sources to reclaim polluted properties available for development, however many sites still remain contaminated and unusable. The federal brownfields program helps return polluted properties to community use and Portland, Maine’s 400 potential sites would benefit from funding to encourage their productive use and improve public safety.

For additional information on our advocacy efforts, please see NARC’s Statement to the Record and a joint letter requesting specific improvements to the program put out by NARC, the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, and U.S. Conference of Mayors in late March. See also, House T&I Committee hearing and House Energy Commerce hearing on reauthorization of the programs.

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