The EPA defines brownfields as abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. Along with being unattractive, brownfields are usually contaminated with hazardous materials and pose hazards to neighbors and communities. Many underestimate the negative externalities that come along with former factories, parking lots, and railroads sitting idle. These vacant properties cause neighbors to fear property value loss and influence businesses to seek out more desirable property causing sprawl into greener areas.
The EPA’s Brownfields program was started in 1995 and since then the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act has been codified. The act provides funding for assessment and clean-up of brownfields under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA. Although the federal law applies to brownfield cleanup, most brownfields are regulated by the states. Many states have voluntary cleanup or state specific Brownfield programs that specify the eligibility requirements for applicants.
Redeveloping brownfields bring benefits to the community and environment, eliminates health and safety hazards, increases the productivity of the land, and increases property values and tax receipts for the local government. The EPA conducted a study in 5 cities (Seattle, WA, Baltimore, MD, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, Emeryville, CA, Dallas-Fort Worth, TX) that demonstrated that the redevelopment of brownfields in cities brought about environmental benefits to the area.
This study examined 163 brownfield sites in five cities, comparing their impacts with those of sites where development was likely to go had the brownfields not been available. This study was conducted by the EPA Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization and the EPA Office of Sustainable Communities. The study can be accessed here.
The Clean Air/Brownfields Pilot Project was initiated by The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to examine the potential for clean air policies to impact brownfields redevelopment goals. The full report is available here.
The EPA’s Brownfields Program offers grants an funding sources, in addition to success stories and toolkits for cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties to protect the environment. The full website is available here.
ARI is devoted to developing sustainable communities, and offers frequent webinars and other materials related to brownfields. Their website is available here.