|A typical brownfield site ready for redevelopment.|
The elimination of the brownfields program is a real head scratcher since the investment by the feds is relatively minimal. Usually brownfields projects are assisted by the federal government but the real investment comes from private and local dollars. For every dollar the feds spend on brownfields about $18 is spent by private, state, and local agencies. The feds usually offer expertise, experience, organizational skills, and modest grants.
For those unfamiliar with brownfields, they are pieces of property, often in cities, that may or may not be contaminated due to past practices. Think about an old industrial site. Often these places have been sold several times and are blights on the landscape. They do not bring in tax revenue and hurt property values of surrounding properties or entire neighborhoods. It is difficult, if not impossible, to sue past owners for the contamination and cleanup. The federal program was started to leverage federal funds and expertise with local and private dollars to clean up and rehabilitate brownfield sites so they can be economically productive again. Brownfield programs help to revitalize communities and neighborhoods while increasing jobs and overall economic activity. There is probably a brownfield site that has been cleaned up with the assistance of the federal government within a short distance of where you are reading this post. Some of the best examples of brownfield cleanups are the former steel mills of Pittsburgh and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Hundreds of brownfield sites have been cleaned up and redeveloped throughout the United States. Many of them have been redeveloped into residential and commercial uses.
For an administration with real estate development experience interested in creating jobs, this cut doesn't make sense. Brownfields programs are very popular in the real estate world since they tend to help increase value of land not just at the brownfield site but throughout the surrounding area. Plus, brownfield redevelopment programs have created over 100,000 jobs. In New York, the Trump family has taken advantage of the EPA's brownfields programs and helped to redevelop some toxic areas of New York.
Many environmentalists have critiqued brownfield programs as being too friendly and financially lucrative for real estate developers. While some of the burden for brownfield redevelopment will move to the state and local governments, I suspect that some aspect of the program will remain remain at the federal level once it becomes clearer how this will impact urban redevelopment efforts--and the bottom line of real estate developers.