At first glance, the $1.5 billion specifically earmarked for brownfield cleanup and a total of $21 billion set aside for environmental remediation in the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) may seem paltry, given that there are an estimated 450,000 brownfield sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. But as David Gockel, PE, president and CEO of Langan in Parsippany, New Jersey, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, points out in the Winter 2021/2022 Issue of Development magazine, the law will benefit brownfield redevelopment in myriad ways.
“About 20% of the money in this bill will go to projects like roads, bridges and railroads,” Gockel explained. “Much of it will yield enhancements of infrastructure that will bring many more brownfield sites to market. Suddenly an infrastructure improvement is going to make many brownfield sites more valuable. Now, the historic premium on that site associated with its environmental cleanup can be overcome because of the transformation in value created by an adjoining infrastructure improvement such as a new roadway.”
In its online Practice Update, the Miami law firm Akerman, which does extensive work in the area of brownfield redevelopment, agreed. It noted that the infrastructure law’s expanded brownfield and Superfund funding provided a major opportunity to unlock remaining brownfields and contaminated sites across the U.S.
There are several ways that the brownfield redeveloper will be able to work within this massive bill to achieve greater funding for the vital work of brownfield cleanup and redevelopment. For one, according to the EPA, the money in the infrastructure law specifically set aside for brownfield cleanup will be used as follows:
- Remove barriers to brownfield reuse and spur redevelopment to transform communities into sustainable and environmentally just places.
- Align with President Joe Biden’s environmental justice executive order by stimulating economic opportunity and environmental revitalization in more than 1,700 historically overburdened communities.
- Enhance climate resiliency and promote equitable and sustainable redevelopment through expanded technical assistance for “Climate Smart Brownfields Redevelopment,” a way to clean up brownfields while at the same time seeking to mitigate climate change.
- Provide necessary funds to states, territories and over 100 tribes as the lead agencies in ensuring all brownfields are safely cleaned up.
- Direct grants and technical assistance to fund cleanup of hundreds of brownfield sites and create livable neighborhoods..
Beyond the money specifically set aside for brownfield redevelopment, there are other sections of the sprawling infrastructure bill that will offer funds for cleanup including:
- Federal Superfund Tax and Funding. The infrastructure law reinstates and revises the federal Superfund tax to provide $3.5 billion in additional funding over the next five years for the EPA to conduct response actions and clean up at Superfund sites across the U.S.
- Reclaim abandoned mines and cap orphaned oil and gas wells. The infrastructure law also provides $11.3 billion to clean up abandoned mines and $4.7 billion to plug, remediate and reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells. The cleanup of these massive problems have long been supported by rural Republicans and Democrats alike.
Ron Derven is Contributing Editor to Development Magazine and writes on real estate topics for The New York Times