• Michael O'Connor

Billions of Dollars Available for Cleaning Up Brownfields

Credit: Mary Ann Grena Manley Founder & President, 15E Communications LLC

Across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of former industrial and commercial sites, called brownfields, sit idle. If cleaned up and redeveloped, these properties present vast opportunities for economic growth and community improvement.

Brownfield sites come in many forms. They can be former gas stations, empty warehouses, abandoned railroads, or any former industrial property. Thanks to a truly historic investment in environmental cleanup, billions of federal dollars are now available for redeveloping these underutilized and unused areas while addressing legacy pollution and revitalizing underserved communities.

$21 Billion for Contaminated Sites On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (H.R. 3684), which includes an unprecedented $21 billion for environmental cleanup and remediation. Brownfields often exist in lower-income areas, disproportionately affecting communities of color. So not only does the infrastructure law aim to mitigate climate change, but it also seeks to stimulate the economy in historically overburdened neighborhoods and advance the Biden administration’s environmental justice (EJ) goals.

Accelerating Cleanup in Underserved Areas In December 2021, EPA announced that $1 billion of the infrastructure funds would go toward cleaning up the backlog of 49 previously unfunded Superfund sites and accelerating cleanup at dozens of other sites across the country. There are thousands of contaminated sites nationwide, including landfills, manufacturing facilities, and mining sites, which often sit in disadvantaged communities. Approximately 60 percent of the sites receiving this initial funding are in underserved areas.

More specifically, the IIJA will provide:

  • $3.5 billion (over five years) for Superfund cleanup, which includes the $1 billion disbursement (the law also reinstates and revises the Superfund tax, which is expected to generate about $14.4 billion over the next 10 years),

  • $1.5 billion (over five years) for brownfields redevelopment,

  • $11.3 billion for the reclamation of abandoned mines, and

  • $4.7 billion for capping and remediating orphaned gas wells.

While funding will be available for brownfields and Superfund site redevelopment, EPA plays a relatively limited role in deciding how sites are reused. Cities and local officials do not always prioritize redevelopment in EJ neighborhoods. However, the IIJA brownfields funding incentivizes redevelopment projects in disadvantaged areas by offering $30 million in job training grants for communities, tribes, nonprofit groups, and states and $110 million in technical assistance to eliminate barriers to sustainable property reuse and similar challenges.

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