I am President of Global Environmental Resources Inc. (GERI), a professional services firm that provides management consulting, technical support services and training to clients on environmental, natural resources and public health programs and projects. Concentrating on community involvement and environmental justice, stakeholder engagement and public participation, GERI's assists clients in improving environmental performance, achieving smart growth and sustainability.
Revitalizing and redeveloping abandoned, often contaminated properties, defined as brownfields, demonstrate the convergence of complex environmental, social and economic issues. For example, compared to their numbers in the general population, many of these properties are in minority and low-income neighborhoods. Thus, equity, race and class discrimination, the diminished tax base in municipalities and suburban sprawl are inseparable from the blight and marginalized communities that accompany brownfields.
In the past decade, a coherent holistic vision has emerged, which addresses the relationship of these issues to the health and vitality of a community. Commonly referred to as sustainable communities, this vision recognizes the significance of meeting community needs and aspirations, and positions those who live within it as integral partners in decision-making. The sustainable communities approach is the junction of equity, economics and the environment. It's focused on building the capacity of communities to participate in decisions, creating partnerships with other stakeholders, mobilizing resources and producing sustainable results.
My background, spanning twenty-three years, reflects GERI's commitment to a sustainable communities approach to environmental decision-making. Among other responsibilities, I have served as an enforcement official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency addressing compliance in communities around the nation. I've worked to advance the tenets of equal protection, including equal environmental protection, as Program Director of the Environmental Justice Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, and as the founding Executive Director of the Washington Office on Environmental Justice, a multi-cultural national organization representing community-based groups, on legal and policy issues, in the nation's capitol.
I am pleased to share with members of the Subcommittee that I introduced and led the grassroots campaign that resulted in Presidential Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice, and other public policy tools such as the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) and the federal Inter-Agency Workgroup on Environmental Justice.1 To help illumine the nexus between environmental impacts in minority and low-income neighborhoods and impediments to community development, I am Vice Chair of the Partnership for Sustainable Brownfields Redevelopment and direct the Partnership's national research project on multi-stakeholder involvement in brownfields decision-making.
Clearly, in urban and rural communities experiencing under-investment and other consequences associated with environmental contamination, economic development and neighborhood revitalization, are issues of grave concern. Equally important, since they have been affected most by those consequences and will live with the consequences of future decisions, communities are urgently demanding inclusion in shaping development outcomes. As a result, I am here, today, in favor of S. 350, "The Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act of 2001."
ANALYSIS OF S. 305
Essentially, S. 350 appears to be a compromise bill, which would achieve protection of human health and the environment by balancing the goals of accelerating cleanups, expanding economic development opportunities, increasing governmental flexibility and reducing disincentives to brownfields reuse. Communities that have, heretofore, experienced difficulties finding funds to redress orphan sites or sites which, according to brownfields jargon, don't qualify as low-hanging fruit, will be encouraged by the appropriation levels in the bill. In the forthcoming budget process, I encourage the Senate to match the authorization to the appropriation.
Expanding the number of sites eligible for action via state response programs should result in increased flexibility to clean up and reuse properties in minority and low-income communities. De-coupling certain qualified sites from the stringency of the National Priority List process and the language in S. 350, which clarifies liability,2 should help to accelerate brownfields redevelopment in areas where such activity has languished. The linkage between conferring this flexibility upon the states and increased community and public involvement is crucial.
Community involvement and public participation assurances in the bill, such as the language framing the Loans and Grants Considerations and the Ranking Criteria in Title I, and the provisions contained in Title III under State Response Programs, elevate the significance of meeting community needs and inclusion in the decision process. Furthermore, by asserting that community involvement, training, research and technical assistance are activities eligible for funding, grants issued pursuant to the bill should help build the capacity of communities to participate in redevelopment planning. The provisions in Title I, which authorize waiver of the twenty-percent match and leveraging grant funds, will assist nonprofit entities operating with limited resources.
S. 350 would require states3 to timely survey and inventory brownfields sites as an element of the state response program. Some experts have suggested more than 500,000 sites nationwide fall within the brownfields category.4 The advantages of such inventories are at least threefold. First, the inventories will broaden available data; second they will provide information about environmental and other conditions; and, third, they should result in a more thorough catalogue of under-utilized sites nationwide that are eligible for productive re-use. With regard to communities, governmental decision makers and prospective developers, the inventories should supply useful knowledge and an array of potential development opportunities.
Another crucial safeguard provided by S. 350 is the preservation of the federal role in the event that threats emerge to human health or the environment. Comparable to the federal safety net provided by civil rights laws in the event that equal protection under law is jeopardized,5 Title III of the bill provides an oversight role and would reserve the right of the federal government to act, for example, in the event of significant threats or imminent hazards. Although requiring a state to demonstrate the effectiveness and equity of its voluntary cleanup plan, prior to delegation of the brownfields program, would provide additional assurances (via a showing of a successful track record), it appears that citizens and the environment are protected where problems with state programs could occur.
In view of efforts of communities to preserve already limited green spaces within, in particular, the urban environment, it's encouraging that the bill favors grants that facilitate, among other activities, creation and preservation of parkland. While, economic development in certain areas is highly desirable, quality of life is greatly enhanced by neighborhood beautification and amenities.
PRINCIPLES OF BROWNFIELDS REDEVELOPMENT
GERI has established 10 Principles for Cooperation Between Communities and Developers in Brownfields:6 They are shared, here, with the Subcommittee to assist with future work on brownfields and community involvement.
Principle #1: Planners and developers must develop a policy that includes people and small businesses already located in brownfields areas. They have been most affected by adverse neighborhood conditions and they will be most affected by proposed changes. Residents have the most at stake in redevelopment and including them should be fundamental.
Principle #2: Recognize that community involvement means helping neighborhood residents and businesses take part in the brownfields dialogue. Stakeholders must invest in education and training to create a common language that leaves no one at a communications disadvantage.
Principle #3: Honor communities and neighborhoods as whole places, not solely as brownfields sites, where people want to live, learn, work and play.
Principle #4: Honor diversity. In undertaking brownfields redevelopment, it will be necessary that all concerned respect diversity of races, cultures, and perspectives, even if their various viewpoints challenge the status quo. A community's contributions inevitably improve redevelopment plans and make for a more thorough, informed process.
Principle #5: The goal of brownfields redevelopment is beneficial land reuse. Land reuse can either replicate the economic and environmental consequences that created brownfields, or it can lead to changes that will benefit all stakeholders. Further, race, class and poverty issues are intricately intertwined with the history of land use and under-investment in certain communities. This history must be considered in today's decision-making affecting neighborhoods.
Principle #6: Every effort must be made to avoid displacing residents. Neither tax increases, nor escalating property values, nor rising rents, shall force families, workers and small businesses to unwillingly flee their neighborhoods.
Principle #7: Economic and environmental advantages that come from brownfields redevelopment must benefit the communities, which have suffered and survived through years of blight, degradation and under-investment.
Principle #8: Health and the environment must be considered on a par with the importance of the brownfields real estate deal. Thirty states have passed laws on liability releases and investment tax incentives and they should not obscure this cardinal point.
Principle #9: Recognize the intersection of the three Es: Equity, Economics and the Environment. This is the path to sustainable development.
Principle #10: Invest sufficient resources to accomplish the community involvement objective. This is an area where the public and private sectors expend the fewest resources and expect to get the most bang for the buck. Community involvement is not public relations and it is more than public participation. It is resource-intensive relationship building that is sensitive and pursued over the long term. It demands that low-income and under-served people have a place at the table.
Enactment of S. 350, "The Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act of 2001," should facilitate brownfields redevelopment. Moreover, we appreciate the potential for positive results in under-served minority and low-income communities. The new funding sources, increased flexibility and elevation of the significance of community inclusion in the decision process are favorable goals. As an expert in the sustainable communities and environmental justice fields and a proponent of brownfields revitalization, GERI concludes that the bill advances many critical goals and objectives. We applaud the Subcommittee's leadership and look forward to working with you in the future.
1I served as a charter member of NEJAC and the first Chair of the Enforcement Subcommittee.
2Title II appears to clarify liability without abrogating CERCLA's strict, joint and several liability standard.
3States and Tribes would be required to develop a brownfields site inventory.
4See e.g., "Industrial Site Reuse and Urban Development: An Overview," Collaton and Bartch, Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, Volume 2, No. 3, U.S. HUD (September 1996)
5See e.g., Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
6"10 Principles for Cooperation Between Communities and Developers in Brownfields," Ferris, D., The Brownfields Report, October 26, 2000