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.
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.
In communities across the country, the brownfields program has had considerable success. Since its inception, according to the EPA, the program has created 130,000 new jobs and leveraged $16 in private and state development funds for every $1 of federal taxpayer-funded grants. To date, it has been responsible for the cleanup and reuse of more than 117,000 properties across the country. But at its current pace, it will be more than 300 years before every underutilized property is remediated and made suitable for development.
Congress should ensure long-term funding of the EPA brownfields program, and allocate additional resources to the program to accelerate the pace of cleanups.
The brownfields program was formally reauthorized by Congress in 2018, with $200 million per year appropriated to the program through 2023. Other tweaks, intended to improve and expand the scope of the program were made as well, including an increase in the remediation grant cap from $200,000 to $500,000 per site, and a provision expressly providing eligibility for nonprofit organizations to receive brownfield funding.
- There are an estimated 500,000 brownfields sites in the United States.
- On average, $1 of public investments in brownfields leverages $16 in total investments.
- Since its inception, EPA’s brownfields program has created more than 125,000 jobs.
- As much as $2 trillion of real estate may be undervalued due to the presence of contamination.