Congress, EPA Work To Move Brownfields Off Back Burner

After last November's fierce presidential election and then-president-elect George W. Bush's promise to clean up brownfields sites, legislation seemed inevitable.

But a year later, the nation is fighting a war against terrorism, and brownfields legislation has been put on hold. As the country braces for a long and difficult conflict, some have asked what chance the bill has of ever seeing daylight. Better than one might expect, say industry insiders.

In general, the proposed brownfields bill would provide $200 million per year to promote cleanup efforts, give developers certain liability relief with regard to cleanups and encourage redeveloping the approximately 500,000 brownfields sites throughout the United States.

Earlier this year, both Houses of Congress unanimously approved versions of the legislation. However, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have held up efforts to enact a new bill — H.R. 2869, sponsored by Rep. Paul E. Gillmor, R-Ohio — that combines the House and Senate versions.

Furthermore, in September, House Democrats challenged the bill, arguing that it did not make assurances that jobs created through brownfields cleanup would be eligible for high wages in compliance with federal labor laws.

Congress also was proposing a deal where the House would agree to pass the Senate version of the brownfields bill if the Senate would agree to take up the House's Small Business Liability Relief legislation, which is related to Superfund. But the future of this deal is up in the air, says Bill Sells, director of federal programs for the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), Washington, D.C.

“Congressman Gillmor had begun moving the brownfields bill through his committee so that it could go to the House floor for a vote, but then Sept. 11 hit, and it's been put on the back burner,” Sells says. “The Senate still has not taken any action on the Small Business Relief bill favored by Gillmor, which doesn't help matters.”

Sells predicts that, in the short-term, Congress will concentrate instead on finishing the appropriations bills, economic stimulus package, and perhaps some less-comprehensive terrorism-related legislation such as bills dealing with unemployment, health insurance, anti-terrorism and security.

But brownfields legislation will not be forgotten entirely, Sells says. “It is still very much a part of the congressional agenda,” he explains. “Because the same Congress will return to Washington, D.C., after the new year, it can continue with any legislation that enjoys enough support to pass. Both the brownfields and the Small Business Relief packages have passed by overwhelming margins. So these bills will be near the top of the list when Congress gets back.”

Outside of Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., continues to work on redeveloping brownfields, even as it faces new challenges of its own dealing with homeland security and bioterrorism. The EPA is continuing its Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative, which brings together federal, state, local and private entities to redevelop contaminated sites. Through the initiative, the EPA has sponsored pilot redevelopment programs in all 10 of its regions. Since its inception in 1993, the program has provided more than $162 million in grants and created more than 11,000 jobs.

In October, the EPA began accepting proposals for 2002 pilot brownfields projects. The pilots, each funded up to $200,000 over two years, will facilitate cleanup efforts at the federal, state and local levels. The EPA expects to select up to 38 additional brownfields pilots by April 2002.

In fiscal year 2002, an additional $50,000 will be awarded to assess contamination at a brownfields site that will be used for “greenspace” purposes — parks, playgrounds, trails or gardens.

Completed and ongoing pilots include cleanup of abandoned industrial facilities and contaminated wells in the Hyde Park section of Atlanta; the creation of a hydroponic tomato farm on the site of a formerly polluted steel plant in Buffalo, N.Y.; the transformation of an illegal dumping ground in Milwaukee into a new factory; and the development of a park and National Guard armory on the site of former wastewater treatment plant in Denver.

For more information about the EPA's brownfields initiative, visit