What is a Brownfield and How Does It Impact Communities?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines a brownfield as a property that may be complicated to expand upon or redevelop as a result of hazardous substances in the ground. These pollutants may or may not be present, posing a threat to the health and safety of those working in the area. There are approximately 450,000 brownfields in the U.S., according to the EPA.

The group is dedicated to cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties. Doing so can generate job growth and reduce development pressure on undeveloped lands.

The Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act

In 2002, the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act was passed, also known as the “Brownfields Law.” This expanded the EPA’s assistance in providing the cleanup tools necessary to restore and reuse brownfields across the country.

However, the EPA has been providing small amounts of money to local governments since the 1990s. One of its first initiatives consisted of launching brownfield pilot projects to guide states and communities in cleaning up these sites to improve their towns and cities.

Brownfields in the State of California

California recognizes that the investigation and cleanup of brownfields can promote economic development and reinvestment throughout the state. That being said, it has created a series of incentive programs to encourage its residents and developers to invest in brownfields.
For example, the Brownfields Voluntary Program was created in 1993. This program allows the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to oversee individuals who are cleaning up brownfield sites. Before it was created, individuals had little help in addressing the toxic pollutants at these locations.

Today, the DTSC works with individuals to efficiently and cost-effectively restore brownfields and make them valuable properties. To participate in the program, people can apply to work with the DTSC and restore the brownfield of their choice. Upon acceptance, they can begin moving forward with the cleanup process.

Loans, Grants and Incentives

California has developed several loans, grants and other incentives to encourage the restoration of areas such as brownfields. The Revolving Loan Fund Program, for example, provides loans to developers, businesses, schools and local governments to redevelop brownfields. Residents in cities ranging from Los Angeles to San Francisco have taken advantage of these opportunities.

The Brownfields Tax Incentive was signed into law in 1997. Since then, Californians have been encouraged to clean up and reuse brownfields to restore their communities. Through this incentive, environmental cleanup costs are fully tax-deductible in the year incurred. In 2006, the legislation was expanded to include petroleum cleanup.

The EPA has a Targeted Brownfields Assessment program designed to help communities determine the risks associated with cleaning up brownfields. However, many states also have their resources available to maintain the safety and health of those working in these areas. For more information on brownfields and California’s programs, visit state’s Toxic Substances Control website. Here, you’ll also find the documents you need to apply for the local incentive programs.