What Are Brownfields, and What Role Does the Federal Government Play in Supporting Their Cleanup?

Brownfields may be any properties which have been contaminated with hazardous substances, whose owners or prospective purchasers are interested in cleaning them up, redeveloping them, or selling them. These properties may be industrial factories and manufacturing facilities, shopping centers with dry-cleaning operations, mine-scarred land, or other commercial real estate.  The EPA estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfield locations in the U.S.

The cost to clean, repair and reinvest in these properties can be substantial. Doing the corrective work is often worth the price because the corrections not only protect the environment, they create jobs, generate local taxes and ease the development pressures on undeveloped open land.

For many years, the Federal and State governments focused their concern about protecting the environment by bringing lawsuits and administrative civil penalties actions against businesses and property owners, in order to force them to comply with environmental laws.  However, over time, government regulators have recognized that many owners or prospective purchasers of contaminated properties are interested in voluntarily cleaning up their properties, without the need for enforcement actions against them.  Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and most other states now have state laws which encourage such voluntary cleanups, by providing clear, uniform standards which supply predictability for property owners who want to know exactly what steps they need to take to clean up their own properties, or who want to limit the risks that they will face if they buy a property they know is contaminated.

These state programs are now supplemented by a federal program administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which provides grants to municipalities and public agencies to fund Brownfields cleanups.  For the 2014 fiscal year, 171 communities received $67 million in federal Brownfield funding.  For example, Oskaloosa, Iowa, city officials recently received two EPA Brownfields grants: one for $200,000 for cleanup of hazardous materials, and another for $200,000 for cleanup of petroleum contamination.

How the EPA Grants Work

Originally, the EPA gave small sums of seed money to local governments who, in turn, began their own brownfield projects. The Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act [Public Law 107-118 (H.R. 2869)] expanded EPA assistance by providing new ways for the public and private sectors to help clean up and repair brownfields to ensure their sustainability.

The Brownfields assistance takes the following forms:

  • Brownfield grants that could help revitalize environmental assessment and cleanup.
  • Brownfield grants that give funding for brownfield community outreach, inventories and planning.
  • Brownfield grants that provide funding to capitalize loans to improve brownfields.
  • Brownfield job training grants for environmental training for local residents
  • Brownfield cleanup grants to be used for planned greenspace use, recreational use or other nonprofit uses.

EPA’s Brownfields grants have helped leverage more than $14 billion in funding from public and private sectors for cleanup and re-development. The grants have also helped to create 60,917 jobs. The EPA is continually looking to provide Brownfields assistance, to build new relationships, to provide better technical assistance, to expand the types of properties it helps and to revitalize communities nationwide.

New Jersey Environmental Lawyers Help Businesses and Communities Pursue EPA Brownfield Grants

New Jersey brownfield lawyers at Michelman & Bricker, P.C. help commercial clients and the public sector in environmental matters. Our environmental attorneys work with engineers, environmental scientists and geologists to develop programs which can help clean up contaminated properties to restore them to productive use or redevelop them.  Under New Jersey’s Brownfields law, we recently helped facilitate the sale of a commercial property (which had been contaminated by a previous lead smelting operation) under a plan by the City of Perth Amboy to have a private developer redevelop a larger, former industrial area, for commercial use. Our firm has locations in Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Our lawyers also professionally represent clients along the East Coast and in the Caribbean. Call us today at 215-557-9440 or complete an online inquiry for a consultation.