Brownfields, defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as “abandoned, idled or under-used real property where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by the presence or potential presence of environmental contamination,” are a nationwide problem; the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that there are as many as 425,000 brownfields across the United States. To combat this problem, many state, federal, local, and nonprofit entities provide funding and technical assistance for brownfields redevelopment projects.

Brownfields remediation work is often complicated, slow and expensive, but frequently results in enormous returns. Although many cities and states have their own brownfields programs, regional councils can play an important role by coordinating regional partnerships, providing technical and financial assistance, and integrating the brownfields projects into their larger regional vision.

Brownfields Issue Brief

Regional councils have participated in brownfields rehabilitation projects by facilitating partnerships and providing technical and financial assistance for brownfields projects. Brownfields projects can advance a regional council’s land use, transportation, environmental sustainability, and economic and community development goals. In 2002, President Bush signed the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act. The Brownfields Law amended the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act by providing funds to assess and clean up brownfields; clarified CERCLA liability protections; and provided funds to enhance state and tribal response programs. In March of 2013, Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ), Inhofe (R-OK), Crapo (R-ID) and Udall (D-NM) introduced the biparisan Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act of 2013 to help towns and cities clean up brownfield sites and put them back into productive use. This bill expands grant eligibility and increases local flexibility to prioritize projects in the wake of recent disasters and rebuilding efforts. Most recently, in August of 2013, the BUILD act was referred to the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. Other related laws and regulations impact brownfields cleanup and reuse through financial incentives and regulatory requirements.

NARC Member Case Studies

  • Brownfields Remediation and Long-Range Planning - Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), Chicago, IL: CMAP identified potential brownfields in the Chicago, Illinois metropolitan area and published a Brownfields Redevelopment Strategy as part of its GO TO 2040 long-range plan. CMAP found the remediating brownfields can bring significant return on investment- a median return of $15 in total investment for every $1 of state investment.
  • Brownfields Clean-up and Community Partnerships  - North Kentucky Area Development District (NKADD), Florence, KY: NKADD heads the Licking River Greenway Brownfield Coalition, a program to rehabilitate brownfields along the Licking River as part of a system of trails connecting urban areas to green space. The plan includes trails, new river access points, improved wildlife habitats, and connections to parks, schools, neighborhoods, and businesses.
  • Brownfields Clean-up Financing:

Brownfields Resources

NARC Resources

  • Regional Solar Planning: A Handbook and Resource Guide: Through the Department of Energy funded SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership, NARC developed the 2nd Edition of the Profiles in Regional Solar Planning: A Handbook and Resource Guide. The Guide is intended to provide guidance specifically to regional planning organizations on the unique roles they can play to move solar energy deployment forward in their regions.
    • Podcasts: NARC has produced a series of solar podcasts, providing in-depth perspective into issues pertaining to regional planning organizations’ solar plans and activities, including using solar energy on brownfields. 

Federal Resources

U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

  • Brownfields Economic Development Initiative: A key competitive grant program that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers to stimulate and promote economic and community development. BEDI grant funds are primarily targeted for use with a particular emphasis upon the redevelopment of brownfields sites in economic development projects and the increase of economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income persons as part of the creation or retention of businesses, jobs and increases in the local tax base.

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

  • Area-Wide Planning Pilot Program: This EPA grant program provides funding to recipients to conduct research, technical assistance and training that will result in an area-wide plan and implementation strategy for key brownfield sites, which will help inform the assessment, cleanup and reuse of brownfields properties and promote area-wide revitalization. Funding is directed to specific areas, such as neighborhood, downtown district, local commercial corridor, or city block, affected by a single large or multiple brownfield sites.
  • Assessment Grants: These grants provide funding for a grant recipient to inventory, characterize, assess, and conduct planning and community involved related to brownfields sites. An eligible entity may apply for up to $200,000 to assess a site contaminated by hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants and up to $200,000 to address a site contaminated by petroleum.
  • Cleanup Grants: These grants provide funding for a grant recipient to carry out cleanup activities at brownfield sites.
  • Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Grants: Annual Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grants allow nonprofit and other organizations to recruit, train, and place predominantly low-income and minority, unemployed and under-employed people living in areas affected by solid and hazardous waste. Residents learn the skills needed to secure full-time, sustainable employment in the environmental field, including assessment and cleanup.
  • Multi-Purpose Pilot Grants: The EPA is piloting a new grant program that will provide a single grant to eligible entity for both assessment and cleanup work at specific brownfield site owned by the applicant. These grants may be used to address sites contaminated by petroleum or hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants.
  • Revolving Loan Fund Grants:  EPA is announcing the availability of an estimated $6 million in FY 2013 funds to supplement eligible Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) grants. These grants provide funding for a grant recipient to capitalize a revolving loan fund and to provide subgrants to carry out cleanup activities at brownfield sites.
  • Targeted Brownfields Assessments: This program is designed to help states, tribes, and municipalities minimize the uncertainties of contamination often associated with brownfields. They supplement and work with other efforts under EPA’s Brownfields Program to promote the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields.
  • Training, Research, and Technical Assistance Grants: The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 authorize EPA to provide, or fund eligible entities or nonprofit organizations to provide brownfields training, research, and technical assistance to individuals and organizations. EPA awards grants and cooperative agreements under a statutory ranking system that includes factors relating to community need, impact on human health and the environment, stimulation or leveraging of other funds, eligibility for funding from other sources, effective use of existing infrastructure. 

Non-Profit Resources

  • Brownfields Center at the Environmental Law Institute: The Environmental Law Institute’s Brownfields Center provides essential information on brownfields cleanup and redevelopment with a focus on the concerns and needs of community groups across the country. The Center’s goal is to encourage and support effective citizen participation in the redevelopment of brownfields.
  • International City/County Management Association: ICMA advances professional local government worldwide. Their mission and vision is to create excellence in local governance by developing and fostering professional management to build sustainable communities that improve people’s lives worldwide.
  • National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals: The premiere national association representing local government professionals responsible for environmental compliance and the development and implementation of local environmental policy.
  • Northeast-Midwest Institute: The Institute’s objective is to accelerate the productive reuse of brownfields and thereby help localities reach the environmental, economic development, and fiscal stability goals that are served when unproductive and contaminated land is redeveloped.
  • United States Conference of Mayors: In 2013, the Conference of Mayors has issued its Metro Agenda for America which outlines their plan to increase jobs, reinvest in the communities, and regrow the nation’s economy. Brownfields redevelopment plays a key component in that plan because its assists communities in creating new businesses, developing new jobs, and improving the environment.
  • Western Pennsylvania Brownfields Center: The Brownfields Center has focused its attention on sites with complex hurdles hindering development and considers sites in terms of greater community economic development. It provides access to information and research on previous development efforts, education programs for professional practitioners and academics in the field, and site-specific workshops that bring together national experts and local stakeholders to strategize comprehensive development initiatives for municipalities and small business owners. 

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