EPA, Hill Staff Join Brownfields Taskforce for Interactive Discussion on Ways to Expedite Redevelopment
By Ted Fischer and Judy Sheahan
February 6, 2006
Mayors participated in an interactive Brownfields Task Force meeting on January 26 held at the annual Winter Meeting. The working group focused on the topics of eminent domain, mothballed properties, tax incentives and reauthorization of Brownfields legislation.
The Task Force, co-chaired by Elizabeth (NJ) Mayor J. Christian Bollwage and Kenosha (WI) Mayor John Antaramian, was joined by Susan Bodine, the new Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, David Lloyd, the new Director of the Office of Brownfields Cleanup and Redevelopment, and representatives from Congressman Michael Turner’s (OH) office, including Stacy Palmer-Barton, his Chief of Staff, and Michael Wiehe, his Senior Legislative Assistant. They, along with outside experts briefed Mayors on the latest brownfield developments and participated in the discussion of how to speed up the redevelopment of brownfields in the nation. Brownfields are abandoned or underutilized properties whose redevelopment is hindered by either real or perceived environmental contamination. The Government Accountability Office estimates that there are between 400-600,000 brownfields in the United States.
The mayors were briefed on the status of various brownfield tools including EPA’s assessment and revolving loan fund program, the Brownfields Economic Development Initiative (BEDI) at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Economic Development Administration’s brownfields program at the Department of Commerce, and the current status of the tax incentive package. The general conclusion was that while the issue of brownfields remains very popular with both the Hill and the Administration, budget cuts are occurring in many of these programs.
The mayors discussed Brownfield legislation, reauthorization, and what needed to be done to improve the program. “I am willing to work with cities to try and improve the program. I believe a lot of you have valid suggestions and I am more than willing to consider options on what can be done to improve the overall process on the redevelopment and remediation of brownfields,” Bodine said.
Lloyd added, “Susan and I are new to EPA’s brownfields program which means we are not wedded to doing anything just because that is the way we always do it. We are looking to be innovative.”
Palmer-Barton outlined Turner’s Brownfields Proposal (H.R. 4480), which would allow $1 billion in tax incentives to be distributed by the states for brownfield properties that are located near certain poverty thresholds and are involved in a voluntary cleanup program.
Antaramian, who recently hosted a meeting in Kenosha, presented the results of that meeting, including a list of recommendations for enhancing EPA’s brownfields program and underlying statutory authority. Included in the list of recommendations were options to combine assessment and cleanup grants into one flexible grant, an option to modify the revolving loan fund and an overall liability recommendation.
The Brownfields Taskforce also discussed the role that eminent domain plays in conducting brownfields and other economic development activities. The Conference of Mayors Executive Committee passed an emergency resolution that stated eminent domain is critical to municipalities to promote sensible land use, the revitalization of distressed communities, clean up of polluted land, the opportunity to build new infrastructure and alleviate the problems of unemployment and economic distress by fostering economic development. The resolution urges Congress to study the issue prior to making any sweeping changes to the law.
For more information on the Brownfield Taskforce meeting and other Brownfields related topics, visit our website at usmayors.org/uscm/brownfields.