Senate EPW Committee votes to reauthorize EPA’s Brownfields program

The EPA Brownfields program helped to remediate a former railroad line in Greenville, SC. Today that line is the Swamp Rabbit Trail, the backbone of an extensive pedestrian and bicycling trail system in the county. Photo via Flickr.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program has helped hundreds of communities clean up and redevelop vacant and contaminated land known as brownfields. The program has not been an official part of the federal budget for several years, however. Last week the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) voted to change that.

On May 18, the EPW Committee approved the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act of 2015 (BUILD Act), which would reauthorize the EPA Brownfields program through 2018. Senator Jim Inhofe and Senator Edward Markey introduced the Act on June 2, 2015. Last week the bill passed on voice vote without amendment.

In addition to making the Brownfields program an official part of the federal budget, the bill also makes several overdue improvements to the program, including:

  • Expands eligibility for nonprofit organizations, limited liability corporations, limited partnerships, and qualified community development entities.
  • Authorizes up to $7,500 for technical assistance grants to eligible entities in small communities, Indian tribes, rural areas, and disadvantaged areas.
  • Increases funding limits for remediation grants to $500,000 for each site, with some exceptions for higher funding, and authorizes multipurpose grants up to $950,000, which provide greater certainty for long-term project financing.
  • Allows certain government entities that do not qualify as a bona fide prospective purchaser to be eligible to receive grants so long as the government entity did not cause or contribute to a release or threatened release of a hazardous substance at the property.
  • Allows eligible entities to use up to eight percent of their Brownfields grant funding for administrative costs.
  • Directs EPA in providing grants to give consideration to brownfield sites located adjacent to federally designated floodplains.
  • Requires EPA to establish a program to provide grants of up to $500,000 to eligible entities and to capitalize a revolving loan fund to locate clean energy projects at Brownfields sites, and
  • Reauthorizes the Brownfield program at the same authorized funding level ($250 million per year) through fiscal year 2018.
  • Increases funding eligibility for governmental entities that did not cause or contribute to the contamination.

The Brownfields program is already helping communities across the country overcome the challenges associated with brownfields. If passed, the BUILD Act would help even more communities transform contaminated land back into productive community assets.

Similar action is taking place in the House of Representatives. In April, the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy held a hearing about the Brownfields program, including what about it currently works well and what could be improved.

With at least one brownfield site in nearly every Congressional district and bipartisan agreement that this is a program worth investing in, it’s exciting to momentum building in both chambers of Congress to reauthorize the Brownfields program. The BUILD Act is strong step toward helping more communities clean up and revitalize contaminated land, and create great places that everyone can enjoy.