JERSEY CITY – U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has co-sponsored a bipartisan bill with senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Mike Crapo (R-ID) to modernize and improve key elements of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Brownfields Program.
The senators are all members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the Brownfields Program. Since 2002, the program has funded the rehabilitation of abandoned and polluted properties to increase safety and attract new businesses to communities.
Brownfields sites are properties affected by the presence of environmental contamination such as hazardous waste or other pollution. These properties are often former industrial sites where contamination presents a health hazard. Even when brownfields do not pose a threat to human health, the mere perception of contamination can discourage redevelopment. The Brownfields Program provides funding to clean up any contamination and prepare the site for redevelopment.
It is estimated that New Jersey has approximately 10,000 brownfield sites. As recently as 2010, “more than a third of the acreage” in Jersey City was identified as either a known or potential brownfield site, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. (EPA).
Since the inception of the Brownfields Program, EPA has provided approximately $1.5 billion in grants, which have leveraged $19.2 billion in additional investment. As a result, the Brownfields Program has assessed more than 20,000 properties and created more than 86,000 jobs nationwide.
Within the past five years, Jersey City has received $1 million in clean up grants from the Brownfields Program. This money has been used to remediate the site that is now being turned into Berry Lane Park and clean up additional sites on Ocean Avenue and Dwight Avenue.
Despite these successes, the EPA estimates there are still 450,000 brownfields sites across the United States.
The Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act of 2013, which was introduced this week, would improve the existing grant process by increasing the dollar limit for cleanup grants and expanding grant eligibility for certain publicly-owned sites and non-profit organizations. The bill would authorize the EPA to make multi-purpose grants, which provide greater certainty for long-term project financing. In addition, the legislation identifies opportunities for waterfront properties and brownfield sites appropriate for clean energy development, allows grant recipients to collect administrative costs, and provides technical assistance to small, rural, and disadvantaged communities. States would also be eligible for additional targeted funding. Finally, the bill would reauthorize the program at current levels through FY 2016.
The legislation is supported by the National Brownfields Coalition, which includes the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities.