“Turning polluted properties back into productive real estate helps us create jobs in distressed communities while simultaneously improving public health and safety.”
On Tuesday, Mayor Sal Panto of Easton, Pa., testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee’s Environment Subcommittee to advocate for brownfields redevelopment funding. Mayor Panto, Chair of the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, commended the committee for addressing municipal liability and identified further areas for improvement.
As a testament to the impact of brownfield projects in local communities, Mayor Panto described how the City of Easton leveraged grant money to clean up the asbestos-tainted Simon Silk Mill site for mixed-use redevelopment. Currently, the site is reopening with retail and arts offerings for the local community.
“As a local government official, I can attest to the fact that brownfields redevelopment is a powerful economic tool,” said Mayor Panto. “Turning polluted properties back into productive real estate helps us create jobs in distressed communities while simultaneously improving public health and safety.”
Present in significant number across all U.S. states and Congressional districts, brownfields are commonly described 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.” On behalf of NLC, Mayor Panto urged the subcommittee to increase or maintain the current overall authorization level for the EPA Brownfields Program.
He provided several specific suggestions:
- Increasing the single-site grant cap to $1 million, or $2 million via administrator waiver,
- Ensuring that the ownership requirement for multi-purpose grants will not complicate existing issues around municipal liability, and
- Allowing that up to 10% of grants be used for administrative costs to cover rent, utilities and other expenses.
Additionally, Mayor Panto applauded the House for addressing several issues previously raised by NLC, including the issue of voluntary acquisition of property and the grant eligibility for local governments where properties were acquired prior to January, 2002.
In addition to Mayor Panto, the Subcommittee heard from Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, Elizabeth, NJ and representatives of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute. Governor Parris Glendening, president of the Leadership Institute, noted that “historically, the EPA Brownfields program has been a lifeline for communities that are struggling to overcome blight and contamination at abandoned industrial sites.”
For more information on the Congressional hearing, read Mayor Panto’s written testimony and 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 a Senior Communications Associate at the National League of Cities.