Conference of Mayors Brownfields Chair Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray and Rialto (CA) Mayor Deborah Robertson testified on March 28, regarding Conference of Mayors environmental priorities. Mayors Bollwage and Robertson testified on reauthorizing the brownfields law on the House side while Mayor Gray encouraged the Senate to pass new legislation that would provide relief for wastewater and stormwater mandates through codifying integrated planning, redefining financial capability and promoting green infrastructure.
Mayors Bollwage and Robertson testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment on “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Revitalizing American Communities through the Brownfields Program.” Mayor Bollwage was testifying as a witness for the Conference of Mayors while Mayor Robertson was asked by her congressional delegation.
Brownfields are defined as abandoned or underutilized properties whose redevelopment is hindered by either real or perceived environmental contamination. The Conference of Mayors was responsible for working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the mid1990s for crafting EPA’s Brownfields Redevelopment program as well as the design and passage of the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act of 2001.
“For many people, brownfields are just the neighborhood eyesore or the former industrial site, but for Mayors they also represent unrealized potential,” said Bollwage. “Mayors see the redevelopment of brownfields as a chance to bring jobs back to a community, revitalize neighborhoods, and reuse existing infrastructure.”
Bollwage outlined the positive impact that the Brownfields Law has had on our economy and the environment with EPA estimating that since the inception of the program:
- Over 26,000 brownfield sites have been assessed,
- Over 5,700 properties and 66,000 acres were made ready for reuse,
- Over 123,000 jobs created and over $23.6 billion dollars leveraged, and
- For every EPA dollar spent leverages approximately $16 in other investments.
Robertson echoed Mayor Bollwage’s comments saying, “As an elected official and public servant with more than 30-years experience, the Brownfields Program, in my view, plays a critical role in assisting cities such as Rialto clean-up, restore and reuse environmentally compromised properties so that they may once again contribute to the health and economy of our communities. This partnership is absolutely critical to economic revitalization and job growth, not just in Rialto but in cities across the country.”
At the hearing, Bollwage submitted a letter on behalf of the US Conference of Mayors (USCM), National League of Cities (NLC), and National Association of Counties (NACo), and National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) urging Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the Brownfield Law with some minor improvements including the creation of a local government multi-purpose grant, increasing the grant amount for environmental cleanups, allowing for administrative costs, providing additional liability protections for cities as well as Good Samaritans.
Integrated Planning, Financial Capability, and Green Infrastructure as Solutions to Wastewater and Stormwater Mandates
Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife regarding the issue of solving wastewater and stormwater mandates in a more affordable manner. This issue has been a priority for the US Conference of Mayors and for its Mayors Water Council.
Gray submitted a letter signed by the Executive Directors of the Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and National Association of Counties, supporting the bipartisan Senate bill, S. 692, the Water Infrastructure Flexibility Act, which as Mayor Gray put is, “a bill that is a step in the right direction by acknowledging that we need to approach our water and wastewater issues in a more practical and cost effective manner.”
Mayor Gray told the Senate about his community’s struggles in solving their Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) problem in a cost effective manner. Lancaster has been working since 1999 to implement a State-approved Long Term Control Plan, investing $80 million in gray infrastructure improvements which put them on the cusp of meeting the 85% capture goal set forth by EPA.
As Mayor Gray stated, “Lancaster was at a proverbial fork in the road knowing that the next logical iteration of gray technology projects was to invest up to $300 million in storage for the remaining combined sewage overflow volume – approximately 15% that is not already captured and treated. After more than a year of evaluation and many public input sessions, Lancaster determined that a $140 million investment in Green Infrastructure (GI) with other gray system improvements, over the next 25 years could accomplish the remaining compliance for the system.”
“And while one part of EPA lauded Lancaster as a model for other cities to replicate,” Gray said, “their enforcement divisio
n continues prosecutorial actions and threats of stipulated penalties in the seven figure range to press us to use costly gray technology rather than allowing Lancaster time to implement a more sustainable green solution.”
Gray said that Lancaster’s story illustrates that a new direction for EPA is necessary. One that will allow cities the flexibility to opt for more sustainable and resilient GI technologies.
Mayor Gray stressed four key points that are important to Mayors including: Codifying EPA’s Integrated Planning and Permitting Policy; Achieving Long Term Control of Stormwater Through Permits; Renewing Congressional Support for Exercising Flexibility in Existing Clean Water Law; and Removing City Fines in Consent Decrees.