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House passes new bill for brownfields renewal
Kirill Abbakumov   on Friday, January 19, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

In late November, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Brownfields Enhancement, Economic Redevelopment, and Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 3017) on a 409 to 8 vote. The bill would reauthorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields Program. Leading up to the bill’s passage, the House Energy and Commerce, as well as Transportation and Infrastructure committees negotiated a compromise between two brownfield reauthorization bills that they had previously passed (H.R. 3017/H.R. 1758).

Originally passed in 2002 as part of the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act (P.L. 107-118), EPA’s brownfields program provides technical assistance and grants for communities to reclaim previously owned industrial sites that have fallen into disuse. According to the EPA, there are more than 400,000 U.S. brownfields. Since the program’s inception, there have been more than 27,075 brownfields assessments and 69,275 brownfields acres cleaned up. This has sparked economic development opportunities and created over 129,240 jobs. Although the program expired in 2006, its popularity prompted Congress to appropriate funds on an annual basis.

Key provisions in the Brownfields Enhancement, Economic Redevelopment, and Reauthorization Act of 2017 include:

  • Expands brownfields liability protection for state and local governments that acquire brownfields through voluntary and involuntary means.
  • Includes abandoned petroleum sites as brownfields if there is no viable responsible party, and if EPA and the state determine that the entity assessing and remediating the site is not liable to clean up the site.
  • Broadens the universe of eligible brownfield grant entities to include 501(c)(3) organizations with a limited liability cooperation, limited liability partnership, and/or qualified community development entity. This would allow more communities to partner with outside entities to redevelop brownfields.
  • Increases funding for brownfields cleanup grants from $200,000 to $500,000 per site and allows EPA to waive that limit up to $750,000 based on need.
  • Permits additional administrative costs to be charged back to the grant. Grant recipients can use up to 5% of their brownfields grant for administrative costs.
  • Allows grants for renewable energy projects on brownfield sites, including facilities that generate wind, solar, or geothermal energy or any energy efficiency improvement project on brownfields.
  • Provides small technical assistance grants of $20,000 to states for communities with populations under 10,000 and/or in disadvantaged areas where the annual median household income is less than two-thirds of the state-wide annual median income.

The bill has been sent to the U.S. Senate for consideration, where a similar bill, the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act (S. 822) was passed by the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee in July 2016. S. 822 is currently awaiting action on the floor of the Senate.