The House of Representatives passed the bipartisan, H.R. 3017, the Brownfields Enhancement, Economic Redevelopment, and Reauthorization Act of 2017, on November 30 by an impressive vote of 409-8.
Brownfields are abandoned or underutilized properties whose redevelopment in hindered by real or perceived contamination. The Conference of Mayors worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the mid 1990s to develop the original EPA brownfields program and worked with Congress to pass the Brownfields law in 2002.
Over the past couple of years, the Conference of Mayors, working in conjunction with the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, and the National Association of Regional Councils have been working with Congress to reauthorize the bill that would contain improvements to the brownfields program and law based on feedback received from our member cities.
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, who has chaired the Conference’s Brownfields Task Force for the past 20+ years, helped shepherd the bill the first time around, and did so again this time. Over the years, he has testified numerous times, including twice this year. Also testifying this year was New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. Other Mayors made their staff available to work with Conference and Congressional staff to develop language and provide feedback for these bills.
As a result of this good work, three bills had passed out of of their respective committees (two in the House and one in the Senate) that contain many of the Conference’s priority provisions. HR 3017 which is a combination of both House bills includes:
- Creation of a multi-purpose grant of up to a $1,000,000 to allow a community to flexibly use money for assessments or cleanups depending on market needs;
- Increase of the cleanup grant amounts from $200,000 to $500,000 and potentially $750,000 with a waiver from EPA to allow for more contaminated sites to be cleaned up;
- Allowance of five percent to be used for administrative costs for grant recipients;
- Expansion of liability protections for innocent municipalities for voluntary and involuntary acquisitions; and
- Allowance for nonprofits to apply for cleanup grants.
A statement released by the four organizations said, “We appreciate that members of the House invited local officials to testify and incorporated many of our suggestions to improve the bill. We thank Representatives Frank Pallone, John Shimkus, Paul Tonko, Elizabeth Esty, John Katko, David McKinley and Greg Walden for their steadfast support on this issue. Their sustained efforts will allow us to build upon our past successes as we continue to redevelop the more than 400,000 brownfield sites across the country.”
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee also passed a brownfields reauthorization bill out of committee but is still awaiting action by the full Senate.