NLC President Matt Zone Defends Brownfields Redevelopment Funding in Washington

No comments

In his testimony, President Zone offered three suggestions on how Congress could increase or maintain funding for the EPA Brownfields Program, increase the overall grant funding to allow communities to cleanup more difficult sites, and resolve the disincentives created by potential liability to facilitate reuse of brownfields properties.

On Tuesday, National League of Cities President and Cleveland Councilmember Matt Zone testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. President Zone called on the House of Representatives to support brownfields redevelopment programs by maintaining their federal funding, and discussed the specific issue of protecting cities from uncertainty around liability concerns.

Describing several brownfields successes in Cleveland, Zone focused on the Trinity Building, a former aluminum products factory site rehabilitated as the City Kennel through a partnership with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He noted that federal/local liability issues nearly derailed the project and raised costs significantly for the city’s land bank.

“Brownfields redevelopment involves a lot of a risk for cities and developers,” said Zone. “Projects like the Trinity Building need public support to compete with newer development sites and overcome the challenges of working with contaminated real estate.”

The EPA defines a brownfield as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.” In his testimony, Zone strongly urged Congress to increase or at least maintain the overall level of funding for the EPA Brownfields Program, increase the overall grant funding to allow communities to cleanup more difficult sites, and resolve the disincentives created by potential liability to facilitate reuse of brownfields properties. He focused on three suggestions:

  • Increasing cleanup grant amounts to $1 million for a single site or, under special circumstances, $2 million per site via waiver
  • Establishing multi-purpose brownfields grants that can be used for the full range of brownfields-funded activities (assessment, cleanup, reuse planning, etc.)
  • Allowing funding for administrative costs for local brownfields programs to cover rent, utilities and other expenses necessary to carry out a brownfields project

The issue of municipal liability for cleanup costs is a concern for local governments, particularly if they were not involved in the contamination of the site. Zone encouraged Congress to allow local governments to be eligible for grant funding for properties that were acquired prior to the 2002 enactment of the EPA’s Brownfields Program and to enhance liability protections for local governments that take ownership of contaminated properties through voluntary acquisition where the local government had no role in causing or contributing to the contamination.

President Zone was joined during the hearing by colleagues from the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well as Rialto, California, Mayor Deborah Robertson. John Dailey, commissioner of Leon County, Florida, concurred during his testimony that “there is more need for funding” for the EPA Brownfields Program and that the program had made a significant impact in his community.

National League of Cities' President Matt Zone testifies on Capitol Hill on March 28, 2017.

For more information on the Congressional hearing, watch a video of the hearing, read NLC President Matt Zone’s written testimony, and read the National League of Cities letter on brownfields. For more information on the EPA’s Brownfields Program, read NLC’s issue brief on modernizing the brownfields redevelopment program.

About the author: Sam Warlick is the Senior Communications Associate at the National League of Cities.