WASHINGTON, D.C. September 27, 2023 Today, Elizabeth, New Jersey Mayor J. Christian Bollwage testified on behalf of the National League of Cities (NLC) and the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Materials in a hearing on reauthorizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Program. According to the EPA, there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S., potentially exposing local residents and ecosystems to hazardous substances. Cleaning up and redeveloping brownfield sites not only keeps Americans safe, but it increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth and protects the environment.
Below is an excerpt from Mayor Bollwage’s remarks as prepared:
“I can’t say this strongly enough – the Brownfields Program is one of the most useful and effective federal programs for helping to revitalize America’s communities by putting abandoned or blighted property back to productive use.
“For city leaders, brownfields sites represent unrealized potential – an opportunity to create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods, increase the tax base, and reuse and enhance already existing infrastructure in a more sustainable manner.
“That’s exactly what we’ve done in my city through a variety of brownfield redevelopment projects along our waterfront, near the train station, and throughout the community. We’ve brought new market rate and affordable housing and job training opportunities. We’ve revitalized neighborhoods and provided new opportunities for long-term economic growth.
“This story of success is one that is replicated in hundreds of communities across the county. The Brownfields Program is a win-win-win: for our local governments, our environment, and our economy.”
“The original Brownfields law signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 provided some liability relief for innocent purchasers of Brownfield properties and provided resources to conduct environmental assessments and cleanups.”
Mayor Bollwage, on behalf of NLC and USCM, recommended the following priorities for the next reauthorization:
- Higher overall authorization and appropriation levels, as well as higher per-grant amounts that were included in bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, especially for cleanup and multi-purpose grants.
- More flexibility and direction to EPA that would allow local governments to use multipurpose grant funding more broadly for any eligible brownfields activity within the community.
- Raise the administrative cost allowance from five percent to ten percent, which will further support small communities.
- Allow communities to apply for an additional cleanup grant for a specific property, even if a community has already received a cleanup grant, as well as the ability to apply for an assessment grant after a community has received a cleanup grant for that property.
- Require nonprofit entities to get signoff from the city to ensure that the project is coordinated with local government efforts.
The EPA Brownfields Program was last reauthorized in 2018 with key improvements that NLC and USCM advocated for, including the creation of a multi-purpose grant and increased cleanup grant amounts. Since then, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has provided $1.5 billion in funding for the Brownfields Program over five years and allowed EPA to provide larger grant amounts.
As part of his testimony, Mayor Bollwage also offered comments on the subcommittee’s 2023 brownfields reauthorization discussion draft.