Recent Senate hearing shows strong bipartisan support for EPA Brownfields Program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program has a proven track record of creating jobs while cleaning up some of the nation’s most polluted sites. A hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week illustrated that even in a contentious political climate, this track record has helped earn the program strong support from both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

Touting the success of the decade-old program – which provides funding and training to clean up contaminated sites across the country – Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) highlighted that “these cleanups have created more than 72,000 jobs and attracted more than $17 billion in private investment.” Describing how brownfield cleanup is often the catalyst for new investment in the community, Senator Lautenberg added that “once brownfields are rehabilitated, they often spark neighborhood revitalization, boost property values and make communities more attractive places to live, work and do business.”

In a show of bipartisan support, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, also praised the benefits of the program while offering suggestions about opportunities for improvement. In particular, Senator Inhofe drew attention to how brownfield redevelopment creates opportunities for local economic development and job creation by bringing vacant and stagnant properties back into meaningful use. The Senator from Oklahoma used an example from his home state to show how the Brownfields Program has been successful in increasing economic opportunities.

A series of expert witnesses supported the approbation of the committee members. David Lloyd, the director of EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization, testified that an additional benefit of brownfield cleanup was that new development could be located near existing infrastructure, saving taxpayers money. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett recounted how his city has used the Brownfields Program to revitalize previously distressed parts of the city. In his testimony to the panel, Evans Paull, the Executive Director of the National Brownfields Coalition, acknowledged the work of partner organizations including Smart Growth America. Mr. Paull described how EPA brownfield funds provide the critical initial resources that lay the groundwork for future private development and that brownfield investments can help kickstart a local economy.

Still more work to be done
Committee members and panel experts resoundingly agreed that the Brownfields Program was a success and should be fully funded. Despite this consensus, the hearing also recognized that there are some ways the program could be improved. Smart Growth America recommends the following changes be made to the Brownfields Program to make it stronger, more efficient and more effective:

  • Authorizing the creation of multi-purpose grants – which would fund assessment and cleanup through a single application – as a way to make environmental cleanup quicker, easier and cheaper to complete. Both expert witnesses and committee members agreed that multi-purpose grants would streamline the remediation process;
  • Continuing to fund area-wide planning – an approach that increases efficiency, builds synergies between properties and helps raise the value of all the land in a designated area. Director Lloyd highlighted a pilot area-wide program that was recently implemented;
  • Promoting sustainable reuse – by encouraging innovative sustainable development projects. One option would be to fund a sustainability pilot program that would offer seed funding to prepare brownfields sites for green infrastructure, smart growth, and alternative energy development.

More information about Smart Growth America’s brownfields advocacy will be coming soon.