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Brownfield Sites Targeted
as Revenue Source
Denver, CO— Many cities across the United States
are facing tight budgets due to state spending cuts, rising security costs
and a weak national economy, but the U.S. Conference of Mayors believes
contaminated vacant lots and industrial sites could help ease their financial
A new survey released by the organization finds that redeveloping these
sites, known as “brownfields,” could generate more than 575,000
new jobs and $1.9 billion annually in new tax revenue for the nation’s
“Redeveloping brownfields holds tremendous economic potential for
our cities and our nation,” said Boston Mayor and Conference President
Thomas Menino. “Congress should respond to mayors and increase funding
for assessment and clean-up to help stimulate hundreds of thousands of
new jobs and potentially billions of dollars in new revenues, at a crucial
time for the economies of our cities.”
The U.S. Conference of Mayors represents some 1,100
U.S. cities with 30,000 or more residents. Its brownfields survey identified
922 sites within 153 cities that have already been redeveloped and provide
evidence of the possible financial gains. This redevelopment of some 10,600
acres has brought in $90 million revenue to 45 cities and more than 83,000
jobs in 74 cities.
The message, says Menino, is that much more can be done.
The survey finds 205 cities with some 25,000 brownfield
sites awaiting development, and of these 148 cities reported that 576,373
new jobs and as much as $1.9 billion annually could be generated if their
sites were redeveloped.
Some 82 percent of undeveloped sites lacked clean up
funds, 59 percent had liability issues and 51 percent require environmental
assessments. Seventy five percent of respondents said that additional
resources are needed to attract greater private sector investment.
It takes money to make money, the mayors say, and the
EPA’s Brownfields program needs increased funding.
The organization wants Congress to provide $250 million in annual funding
for the program, in line with the Small Business Liability Relief and
Brownfields Revitalization Act, which was signed into law by President
George W. Bush in January 2002.
The law created a formula for rehabilitating properties that would permit
a federal liability waiver and authorized up to $250 million per year
for brownfields grants, including up to $50 million for the assessment
and cleanup of low-risk petroleum contaminated sites.
But as is often the case with federal programs, the appropriation has
so far not met the authorization.
In 2003, Congress appropriated $170 million for the EPA’s brownfields
program, a $30 million cut from the Bush administration’s request
of $200 million. Most of the cuts came from local assessment and clean
The Bush administration has been keen on brownfields development, but
the mayors are concerned that the 2004 budget request of $210 million
eliminates funding for redevelopment of these sites, instead earmarking
the money for assessment and clean up projects.
What is frustrating for the mayors is the program appears to work.
Launched in 1995, the EPA’s Brownfields program was created to ease
concerns of developers about the risks associated with redeveloping the
nation’s abandoned and contaminated waste sites, such as old gas
stations, factories and buildings that may be contaminated with lead or
Through funding incentives, feasibility tools and grants up to $200,000,
the program has helped states and local communities and organizations
entice developers into taking on brownfields projects they might otherwise
have ignored for fear of liability for buried wastes and/or contamination.
Brownfields sites are carefully screened for contamination before an appropriate
reuse plan is established. In residential areas, citizens help make the
decisions for their neighborhoods.
The EPA reports that so far the agency’s brownfields
assistance has leveraged more than $4.6 billion in private investment
through 645 grants and has helped create more than 20,000 jobs and has
resulted in the assessment of more than 4,000 properties.
Redevelopment of brownfield sites is not just good for the economy - there
is evidence it can help ease the pressures of urban sprawl. The EPA says
that every acre of reclaimed brownfields saves 4.5 acres of green space.
Environmentalists are keen on the idea, given the oversight is sufficient
There is clearly a huge demand for the limited dollars at the EPA’s
discretion— the General Accounting Office estimates there are close
to half a million brownfield sites throughout the country.
“Brownfield redevelopment is a key component of revitalizing many
of the nation’s urban neighborhoods,” said Jackson Mayor Harvey
Johnson, who co-chairs the Conference’s Brownfields Task Force.
“Turning these properties around and making them productive makes
city neighborhoods better places to live, work, and play.”
The Conference also levied support for a plan to creating new funding
streams at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department
of Commerce to help prepare brownfield sites for redevelopment.
“Brownfields redevelopment is a win-win for everyone involved,”
said Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory, who chairs the Conference’s
Environment Committee. “It is pro-environment, pro-business, pro-neighborhood,
and pro-smart growth.”
—Reprinted with permission from Environment