Brownfields - the Perils, and the Possibilities
S. 350 is a carefully crafted, critically needed response to a pernicious problem that affects countless communities across America. Brownfields - those once-productive properties now left idle because of actual or perceived low-level hazardous material contamination - hang like albatrosses around the necks of thousands of urban and not-so-urban neighborhoods. Irrespective of their true potential, these sites often remain unloved and unused due to the inconvenience, uncertainty, and liabilities that clean-up responsibility entails.
Public and private land-use decision-makers often find it simplest to bypass brownfields, focusing their attention instead on virgin properties and other lands that do not pose the same challenges. As a consequence, even as intensifying development pressures migrate elsewhere, communities with these land-use white elephants miss out on economic opportunities; moreover, the very existence of derelict properties shrouded in possibly toxic mystery squelches land use and community spirit neighborhood-wide. And the ripple effect extends far beyond, since housing, commercial, or community facilities construction frequently shifts instead to "path of development" lands at the leading edge of urban sprawl.
In our work with municipal governments, community groups, private landowners, and other local partners, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) has seen the withering effect that unremediated brownfields can have on community landscapes. Conversely, we have witnessed first-hand how reclamation of these challenged sites - as economic engines, or as parklands with incalculable quality-of-life rewards - can bring new life not only to old properties, but to local economies and esprit as well. In short, our on-the-ground work affirms the desperate need for precisely the helping-hand approach and practical land-reclamation tools that S. 350 provides.
TPL, Green Spaces, and Brownfields
Since 1972, TPL has worked to protect land for people, helping government agencies, property owners, and local interests to establish and enhance public spaces for public use and enjoyment. By arranging conservation real estate transactions, TPL has facilitated the protection of well over a million acres of park, forest, agricultural, and other resource lands. Through these "win-win" partnerships, many communities have woven an appropriate open-space thread into their overall land-use fabric. In the process, they have recognized the interdependence of the built environment and the natural one, and have reaped the benefits of balanced growth.
At the same time, land-use trends on a national scale are raising new concerns about whether this tenuous balance can be maintained. We have seen the rate of open space conversion more than double in the past decade; according to recent U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, farmland and other open space is yielding to development at an average rate of nearly 400 acres every hour. And from the wilderness to the inner city, even as these open spaces are being lost, Americans are more and more urgently expressing their need for more parks, greenways, wildlife areas, community gardens, and scenic protection.
From TPL's earliest days, it has been clear that brownfields - even before the word was coined - have been a necessary, integral component of any full-fledged strategy to meet the needs of both development and conservation. Left unremediated, these idled properties pose a serious, often-insurmountable threat to neighborhood stability, economic development, public health and safety, and quality of life. Conversely, brownfields reclamation - through new commercial or residential development, or through creation of new community parks or playgrounds, or through a combination of these land uses - can spark a true neighborhood renaissance.
In some of TPL's first projects, in the inner cities of Oakland, CA and Newark, NJ, we watched just this sort of redemption as community groups turned trash-strewn, contaminated lots into gardens and pocket parks. Since then, we have participated in a wide range of brownfields-to-parks conversions. In Atlanta, new visitor facilities at the Martin Luther King National Historic Site have replaced an old Scripto Pen factory. In Chicago, mothballed railroad property was transformed into playgrounds and ballfields at the city's Senka Park. And along the Los Angeles River - that desolate concrete channel best known as a film location for "Terminator" movies - new parks and recreation areas are rising up on previously contaminated factory sites.
There is ample historical precedent for these powerful symbols of neighborhood renewal. In Kansas City, for example, abandoned industrial sites were the foundation for the city's entire park system. Chicago's long-admired lakefront park system sits on the site of the city's former tannery district; New York's Bryant Park and Boston's Charles River greenway have similarly challenged pedigrees. And in each case, the greening of abandoned lands brought new private investment, new economic opportunity, and new urban vitality.
Moreover, just as newspaper recycling saves trees, brownfields recycling saves undeveloped landscapes. The simple fact is that there is not enough "new" land in our urban areas and rapidly growing suburbs to provide for the mix of open space and development upon which healthy communities depend. Each of the estimated 600,000 brownfields in America is a missed opportunity for a public recreation facility, a housing complex, or an office park that likely will be built elsewhere. Consequently, unrestored brownfields serve only to ramp up the competing land-use pressures on the ever-shrinking inventory of pristine lands.
Plainly put, brownfields recovery can green neighborhoods, resolve development-versus-preservation conflicts, promote economic expansion, and inhibit sprawl. For all of these reasons, TPL encourages the Subcommittee to add some much-needed arrows to the brownfields-conversion quiver by considering and reporting S. 350, a bill that brings the federal government, as an appropriate partner, into the mix. As you well know, we are far from alone in this request: this legislation enjoys an unprecedented spectrum of support that ranges from public officials to private industry to the public-interest community.
S. 350's vitally important brownfields solutions attracted a broad bipartisan sponsorship - a total of 67 Senators - in the 106th Congress, and momentum is again building. With far-reaching support in Washington and across America, we believe this bill could be the first major environmental statute enacted by the 107th Congress, so long as it is not amended in any way that diminishes this unparalleled balance of enthusiastic public and private support. For this reason, and for the more specific community-empowering reasons spelled out below, we urge prompt approval of S. 350 as introduced.
S. 350 - New Tools to Renew Lands
The Trust for Public Land is particularly appreciative of the programs for community revitalization included in Title I of the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act. These provisions will provide a much-needed new federal commitment to brownfields reclamation and reuse, and will leverage considerable nonfederal partnership funding. As a direct result, S. 350 will exponentially increase the canon of restoration success stories and will vastly improve economic and environmental vitality nationwide.
TPL is especially encouraged by the inclusion of the following specifics in S. 350:
* The criteria for entities eligible to receive grants and loans are appropriately inclusive, allowing a diversity of conservation and/or redevelopment partners - including Indian tribes and state-created conservancies - to participate.
* The bill's Site Characterization and Assessment Grants are similar to the successful model of EPA's assessment demonstration pilot program, which already have been an important component in brownfields-to-parks conversions.
* The proposed revolving loan funds offer a tailored seed-money approach regarding remediation funding, including the authorization of grants where recipients are unable to draw upon other funding sources. This provision ensures that those who can pay back will, and that the underserved communities with some of the greatest need for brownfields revitalization will also benefit.
* The bill explicitly encourages grants for parks, greenways, and other undeveloped public uses. This provision, which recognizes the importance of improving quality of life in brownfields-affected neighborhoods, places open-space and community recreation appropriately in the equation alongside revenue-producing economic redevelopment
* EPA will have important flexibility to apply resources to areas where the need is greatest. The bill allows for increased assessment grants for more critical and difficult projects; additional support for communities best able to leverage nonfederal commitments; assistance for development of site remediation programs; and the potential waiver of the program's matching requirement for communities truly unable to meet this obligation.
* The bill's grant-ranking criteria include further encouragements for environmental justice projects, economic stimulus, brownfields-to-parks conversion, synergy with nonfederal funds, and use of existing infrastructure
* Last and certainly not least, the meaningful annual funding levels for these programs will allow the federal government to become a true partner to state and local entities working to reclaim their landscapes.
With all these benefits, the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act of 2001 will enable urgently needed, place-specific federal participation in efforts across the country to foster recreation, open space opportunities, and redevelopment on appropriate sites, and by extension will help to conserve undeveloped resource lands that might otherwise be built upon.
Mr. Chairman, please accept the thanks of the Trust for Public Land for your commitment to and craftsmanship of S. 350. We eagerly look forward to working with you, Chairman Smith, Senators Reid and Boxer, and the bill's other cosponsors toward enactment.