Brownfields Program

Brownfields are abandoned or under-utilized commercial or industrial properties where expansion or redevelopment is hindered by real or perceived contamination. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties improves and protects the environment, increases local tax bases, facilitates economic growth and utilizes existing infrastructure for development.

Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the brownfields program provides grants and technical assistance to states, local governments, tribes, and redevelopment agencies to support the assessment, cleanup, and reuse of Brownfield sites.

Issue

Because of the threat of contamination, coupled with liability concerns, many developers and lenders have had a hands-off approach to brownfields. Redeveloping brownfields can become more expensive than unused "greenfields" and investors are sometimes reluctant to lend money for a site that can be greatly devalued, potentially very expensive to remediate and may create liability issues for new owners for previous environmental contamination.

Position

Congress should reauthorize the EPA brownfields program, and expand the scope of eligible brownfields grant recipients; fund technical assistance grants to small communities and rural areas; and provide multi-purpose grants to tackle more complex sites, as have been proposed in bipartisan, bicameral legislation. 

Status

The brownfields program’s authorization technically expired in 2006, but every year Congress has appropriated funds to keep the program in existence, albeit at declining levels. Bipartisan legislation in both the House (H.R. 3017) and Senate (S. 822) would reauthorize the program while also expanding its scope.

Talking
Points

  • There are an estimated 500,000 brownfields sites in the United States.
  • On average, $1 of public investments in brownfields leverages $8 in total investments.
  • As much as $2 trillion of real estate may be undervalued due to the presence of contamination.