In August 2023, over 2,700 Brownfields practitioners met in downtown Detroit to share the latest trends and best practices for revitalizing and redeveloping contaminated brownfield sites across the country. The National Brownfields Coalition (NBC), a nonpartisan advocacy coalition convened by Smart Growth America and the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR), actively participated at the conference through sessions led by many NBC members. Key areas of focus included the current historic level of funding, opportunities for integration of clean energy technology into site redevelopment plans, and the anticipated reintroduction of the bipartisan Brownfields Tax Incentive Reauthorization Act (2021). There is currently a historic level of federal funding dollars available for brownfield revitalization efforts, and a strengthened push for integrating clean energy manufacturing into their reuse.
As countless American communities explore strategies for remediating environmentally contaminated sites and repurposing them for more productive uses, the environmental industry and community advocates convened with government representatives at the 2023 National Brownfields Training Conference from August 8 – August 11, 2023 in downtown Detroit. Stakeholders from across the country included government officials, environmental engineers, urban planners, environmental justice advocates, and more, to discuss best practices and brainstorm solutions for remediating and revitalizing these blighted spaces.
On the third day of the conference, steering committee members of Smart Growth America’s National Brownfields Coalition Lee Ilan and Joel Markland led a roundtable discussion titled “Federal Policy Updates,” and there’s plenty to be excited about:
There are historic levels of federal funding available for brownfield remediation:
We are currently in a prime window of opportunity for brownfield remediation and community revitalization, thanks to funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). A major focus of the conference was the level of federal funding available for brownfields, environmental justice work, and the innovative design of these opportunities, including those intended for community based organizations. In Detroit, an EPA staffer emphasized that, “It’s not every day that the EPA gets to talk about programs in the billions rather than millions.” In particular, EPA’s Environmental Justice Community Change grants will make awards of $10-20 million available to community organizations, beginning this fall.
Emerging federal legislation could introduce vital new funding streams:
The anticipated re-introduction of the bipartisan Brownfields Tax Incentive Reauthorization Act (2021) further underscores the current window of opportunity. Originally introduced by House Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ-11), this bipartisan bill would restore an expired (since 2012) tax incentive that allowed developers to fully deduct environmental remediation costs from their tax returns in the year the costs are incurred. This is possibly the most impactful action the federal government has taken to support site cleanup, as the financial risk is lowered and more funds are available for additional sites. Rep. Sherrill has recognized that “We’re leaving a huge amount of opportunity on the table by failing to remediate the brownfields in our communities. Cleaning up and redeveloping these sites creates jobs, beautifies neighborhoods, provides flood mitigation, and can bring huge economic growth to towns.” National Brownfields Coalition members anticipate active engagement on this bill and encouraged session attendees to reach out to their representatives to urge support if they would like to see this game-changing financial incentive enacted.
There is a major opportunity to adapt brownfield sites for clean energy uses:
Creativity, effort, and funding are required to address the pollution on brownfield sites as well as the increasing demand for clean energy. The Inflation Reduction Act’s tax credits for both investment in and production of renewable energy provide a bonus if the project is on a brownfield site. “Brownfields to bright fields” (building solar installations on brownfields) was mentioned in the discussion of important funding sources, and SGA will be focusing on this topic in the coming year.
Strategies to reduce residential displacement:
As with any form of redevelopment project that results in an increase in nearby property values, there must be an intentional effort made to reduce the risk of community displacement that comes with redeveloping brownfield sites. The EPA recognizes this risk and is actively exploring strategies to prevent it.
It’s difficult to convince elected officials to fund brownfield projects and programs if they don’t know about them or if they don’t understand their importance to constituents. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there are over 450,000 contaminated brownfield sites across the country. Site tours, letters, white papers, and advocacy coalitions are all effective ways to highlight how brownfields funding makes a difference. The National Brownfields Coalition offers support for these types of communication, as well as testifying directly to Congress and regularly sharing information about federal policy updates.
SGA and the National Brownfields Coalition look forward to continuing advocating for forward-thinking brownfield remediation policies at all levels of government. Visit the National Brownfields Coalition site for more information on the Coalition and its advocacy efforts.