U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced bipartisan legislation she co-sponsored to clean up and rebuild on industrial brownfield sites passed through the committee. The Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development (BUILD) Act would jumpstart development efforts and provide additional resources for sites in need of redevelopment. The measure would allow local municipalities and non-profit organizations access to more money, tools and resources as they work toward project completion as well as help to create and sustain jobs.
Congressional authorization for the Brownfield program lapsed at the end of 2006, leaving economic development opportunities to fall by the wayside.
“New York State is home to hundreds of abandoned industrial sites that are bursting with potential for new economic growth,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Our industrial economy powered us through the 20th century, put dozens of our communities on the map and provided jobs for our families, but were left abandoned when factories closed or moved overseas. But when we make these smart, targeted investments, we can revitalize our communities, attract new businesses and support new jobs, and transform these sites into places for New Yorkers to live, work and raise a family again.”
Large manufacturers left behind contaminated land where their factories once stood. These abandoned sites – known as brownfields – must be cleaned up before new development can begin. There are between 450,000 and one million abandoned and contaminated sites in the United States, according to the Government Acceptability Office (GAO), including more than 560 in New York State. Brownfield sites range in size from a half an acre to tens of acres and are located in both urban and rural areas. The redevelopment of these sites have proven to be beneficial to communities as they provide a boost to the economy through private investment and business development, job creation, community development and overall quality of life in the area.
The BUILD Act builds on previously existing brownfield initiatives by expanding the reach of these efforts and increasing the amount of funds applicants can request. Specifically, the legislation:
- Recognizes that the cost of cleaning up past contamination is a barrier to bringing brownfield sites back into the market by increasing the funding ceiling for cleanup grants and allowing funds to be used for administrative costs.
- Allows the Environmental Protection Agency to award multipurpose grants that will speed redevelopment by streamlining and increasing certainty on the cleanup process. This update recognizes that the redevelopment process is a complex, multistep effort that can include site inventory, characterization, assessment, planning, or remediation for one or more brownfields site through one grant. Securing upfront funding for the various phases of brownfields redevelopment—instead of having to seek funding for the different phases of the project—allows a community to work more closely with a developer to turn blighted properties into community assets.
- Expands eligibility for site assessment grants to non-profit organizations. Currently, non-profits and community-based organizations are eligible for cleanup grants but not assessment grants. Expanding eligibility will better position communities since these non-profits are often in the best position to identify or prioritize sites and initiate redevelopment.
- Allows local governments to apply for site assessment grants for properties that were acquired by a community before the creation of the brownfields program. This provision of the BUILD Act would allow more brownfields to be evaluated for contamination without eliminating the local government’s liability to clean up the site.
- Incorporates elements of Senator Gillibrand’s Waterfront Brownfields Revitalization Act by identifying opportunities for redevelopment of abandoned, idled or underused industrial properties on waterfronts.
- Makes clean energy projects at brownfield sites eligible for funding, including any facility that generates renewable electricity from wind, solar or geothermal.