Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage testified for the second time in two weeks regarding the importance of reauthorizing the brownfields law and providing initial comments on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s draft legislation. Mayor Bollwage testified on behalf of the Conference of Mayors while another USCM member, Easton (PA) Mayor Sal Panto testified on behalf of the League of Cities. The Mayors testified before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the Environment on April 4, 2017.

“Brownfields redevelopment helps build our economy and create jobs,” Bollwage said, “and I want to thank this committee for producing a very good draft bill that took many of our recommendations.”

“Investment in and cleanup of the brownfields sites that are a blight on urban and rural communities across the country is an investment in our nation’s civic infrastructure, and infrastructure investment is essential to moving America forward,” Panto added, “President Trump has made reinvesting in America a key priority of his administration, and we believe the brownfields program is one avenue to making good on this promise.”

Mayor Bollwage presented a joint letter on behalf USCM, NACo, NLC, and NARC encouraging the reauthorization of the Brownfields bill.

Below are excerpts of Mayor Bollwage’s testimony outlining the Conference’s initial thoughts on the draft legislation including:

Overall Authorization-Appropriations – I can not stress enough how successful of a program this is and which could use more funding. Our joint letter asked for a minimum of previous authorized levels of $250 million but stated the program could utilize more funding.

Increasing Cleanup Grant Amounts We are happy that the Committee raised the cleanup grant amounts to $500,000 and $750,000. However, if it is at all possible, we would like to see this increased to $1 million and in special circumstances, $2 million. This would give some additional resources to conduct clean-up at the more contaminated sites and bring a new group of properties back into productive use.

We are very pleased that your discussion draft creates a multi-purpose grant so we can be more market friendly. We also are supportive of the $1 million authorization levels. We do have a couple of observations including:

  1. How detailed will the “overall plan” need to be under the Criteria section? One of our visions for this type of grant was to be flexible enough to meet market needs. An applicant may have a certain vision for an area but a developer may have other ideas. We wouldn’t want an applicant to not be able to use the funds if the funds do correspond with the initial vision.
  2. Ownership – we are currently checking to see if having to be an owner before expending remediation funds will be an impediment or if this is not a problem. We would like an opportunity to comment on this later.

Removing Barriers to Encourage the Redevelopment Mothballed Sites – this is a very big problem in some communities where owners are just not willing to sell or give up their property. We believe that the additional liability protection that you have included may potentially address but we are awaiting some additional feedback from our cities and would like the opportunity to provide the committee with our findings.

Allowing Reasonable Administrative Costs: We are grateful that you are acknowledging this need. However, if there is anyway of increasing this percentage, that would be extremely helpful, especially to smaller communities.

Clarifying Eligibility of Publicly-Owned Sites Acquired Before 2002: We thank the committee for developing what we think is a very good solution.

Encouraging Brownfield Cleanups by Good Samaritans: This is a situation that we think we should address in order to have additional help in cleaning up these sites. We would welcome the opportunity to bring in some of our experts to work with you to see if we could develop a viable solution.

If Mayors or their staff have thoughts on the draft legislation, please submit those comments to [email protected].