In wake of Senate action, Representatives Pallone and Tonko introduce House version of Brownfields authorization bill

EPA Brownfields funds helped transform the site of a former tin manufacturing and can factory into a mixed-use office and retail hub in Canton, Baltimore, MD. Photo via EPA.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bill to authorize and improve the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program. Now the House of Representatives is moving to do the same.

Last week Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-6) and Paul D. Tonko (NY-20) introduced the Brownfields Authorization Increase Act of 2016 (H.R. 5782). The legislation would amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act to enhance EPA’s Brownfields program and include it as a formal part of the federal budget.

The Brownfields program provides crucial assistance to states and local communities to clean up and redevelop contaminated and underutilized land. Some of the program’s successes include over 23,000 brownfield assessments, over 59,000 acres of land made ready for productive use, over 106,000 jobs created, and more than $20 billion leveraged from a variety of public and private sources for cleanup and redevelopment activities.

“This legislation reauthorizes this important program and provides critical funding to local communities to transform former factories, abandoned lots, and other vacant facilities into community centers, parks, and new businesses,” Representative Pallone said in a statement.

“The Brownfields Authorization Increase Act of 2016 is a major step forward to ensuring brownfield sites are no longer part of the problem, but become part of an economic solution in so many communities across America,” said Christopher Coes of Smart Growth America. “We applaud Representatives Pallone and Tonko for introducing this important legislation and we look forward to working with the Committee and our bipartisan congressional champions to advance this legislation through Congress.”

The new House bill complements the Senate’s Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development (BUILD) Act (S. 1479) which passed that chamber in early July. Both versions of the bill makes a host of changes to the program. The House bill would specifically:

  • Expand eligibility for EPA Brownfields grants to certain nonprofit and community development entities, including 501(c)(3) organizations, limited liability corporations, and limited partnerships.
  • Increase funding for direct remediation grants for sites to be remediated based on special circumstances.
  • Allow up to 10 percent of a grant or loan to cover indirect cost relating to investigation and identification of the extent of contamination, design and performance of a response action, and the monitoring of a natural resource.
  • Allow eligible entities to receive funding for certain brownfield sites acquired prior to January 11, 2002.
  • Authorize the establishment of a multi-purpose grant program for multifaceted projects.
  • Provide staff for small, disadvantaged, or rural communities to build local capacity for remediation and revitalization.
  • Authorize the establishment of a competitive program that awards funding for projects tied to sustainable reuse and clean energy.
  • Provide technical assistance grants to assist small communities, Indian tribes, rural areas, and disadvantaged areas, and
  • Provide funding for State response programs beginning with $70 million in 2017 and increasing by $10 million annually to a total of $120 million in 2022 and beyond.

The major difference between the two versions is in the funding levels. Both bills authorize EPA to establish a new multi-purpose grant program. The Senate bill would cap those grants at $950,000 each; the House bill would cap them at $1.5 million. Both bills provide more funding for technical assistance grants to assist small communities, Indian tribes, rural areas, and disadvantaged areas. The Senate bill would provide $600,000 for that program, the House bill $1.5 million. And both bills would increase funding for direct remediation grants, currently funded at $200,000. The Senate bill which would increase funding to $500,000 with a $650,000 cap, the House to $750,000 with a $1.5 million cap.

These are just a few of the many differences, large and small, that members of the House and Senate will need to reconcile before the bill is able to become law. Overall, this legislation is a step in the right direction. It provides the funding, flexibility, capacity building, and technical assistance needed to clean up and redevelop brownfield sites across the country.