Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said in a statement this spring “it’s very rare that I have the opportunity to speak positively about any program that comes out of the EPA. But the Brownfields program is a conservative program. It leverages public finances with private investors to clean up contaminated areas that would otherwise be abandoned so they can redeveloped into something productive and profitable. And that’s why I’m proud to be a primary sponsor of the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act of 2013.”
Senator Inhofe is seen by many to be one of the most conservative people in Washington. This is a man who has stated on more than one occasion that he thinks global warming is a hoax. So why are he and other Republicans such as our own Mike Crapo (R-ID), not only supporting an EPA program, but sponsoring a bill to expand it? The simple answer is, they see the benefits to their states.
Brownfeilds are not a new problem, and restoring brownfields is far from a new idea. Programs such as CERCLA have been around for decades. These programs have pioneered the concept of brownfield restoration. Restoring land and buildings that have become blights in can rejuvenate neighborhoods and bring the property value up for surrounding properties. The brownfields restoration program is seen by many to be a large success. The economic benefits alone are so blatant that even the most staunch conservatives cant turn a blind eye to them. Properties surrounding restored brownfield areas rise in value by an average of 2 to 3 percent, sometimes more. Even with the hundreds of success stories, there are still as many as 425,000 brownfield properties throughout the U.S.
In order to clean up these sites, developers often have to apply for multiple grants. This increases administrative costs and therefore makes some projects unappealing to developers. To put it bluntly, brownfield sites are often viewed as more trouble than they are worth.
The BUILD act will streamline the grant application process and also make brownfield restoration possible in areas that it simply isn’t now. One example of this is small towns. Throughout the united states there are small towns with abandoned gas stations, dry cleaners, etc. These towns often do not have the resources or technical expertise to apply for brownfields grants. The BUILD act provides a technical assistance grant for towns with under 15,000 people. Many of the republican senators supporting this bill have constituencies in small rural areas. They recognize that this bill will give these small areas an opportunity to take advantage of a program that wasn’t easily available to them before.
Within the state of Idaho the brownfield program has already made numerous success stories. One of the most noticeable in Boise is the American Linden property in downtown Boise. This property previously housed chemicals used to clean laundry as well as holding barrels of diesel fuel used to run trucks. The building eventually fell into disrepair and the contaminations made it unappealing as a restoration project. For years it was an abandoned eyesore in downtown Boise.
The Brownfields restoration program helped to bring this building back to its former glory. It is now used for events such as weddings, which brings business to the whole Linen district. The BUILD act even provides specific grants to convert former brownfields into green energy facilities. Buildings on brownfields are becoming energy efficient
some brownfield properties are even becoming wind or solar farms. With the BUILD act this could go from a rare site to a common occurrence.
While the bill has bipartisan support this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is easily passable. It was introduced on March 7th 2013 and was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public works. This puts it in a make or break situation. If it is not encouraged to be acted upon, it can be a place for it to go to die. Planners are in a special position. They have the knowledge of the benefits a bill like this could have on a community. By advocating for this bill to be passed, planners will have another tool that can be used to improve their communities.