Brownfields RedevelopmentBrownfields Sites: Laws and Regulations that Cover Them

June 23, 20200


Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced an award of $180,000 to the City of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The grant is to clean up brownfields sites and repurpose them. Today’s blog post will address what brownfields sites are, their remediation, and how environmental laws and regulations assist with the remediation.

Background on Brownfields Sites

Brownfields are public and private properties, “the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” There are more than 450,000 brownfields sites in the United States; “[c]leaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands,” according to the definition in the 2002 Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act.

Past property use may be a helpful indicator for the types of contaminants that may be found on the site. For example, older residential areas often used asbestos or lead in construction, railroad lines and facilities have their share of lead and other metals, industrial sites and mines tend to see increased levels of metals, etc. The most-reported contaminants are lead, petroleum, and asbestos. As a result of the contamination or potential contamination present on brownfields sites and the costs associated with remediation, these properties are often left to deteriorate instead of being remediated and reused or redeveloped.

How the Sites are Remediated and Repurposed

When funds become available for remediating and repurposing brownfields, successful ventures create more open space. Also, new residential, industrial, or mixed-use opportunities occur.

At the federal level, the EPA is in charge of the environmental laws and regulations which apply here. The Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program assists states by providing grants for this purpose. Particularly important here are three environmental laws and regulations.

First, the 2002 law above, which helps both the public and private sectors with cleanups. Second, the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act (or BUILD Act) of 2018, which reauthorized the Program. Third, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (“CERCLA”), which requires remediation of sites with hazardous material releases designated as Superfund sites by the EPA, including brownfields sites. For more on CERCLA, see our blog post here.

In R.I., the DEM also works to assist in the remediation and redevelopment process for brownfields sites, through state environmental laws and regulations. These include enforcement by the Site Remediation and Brownfields Program. Particularly, DEM and the various parties carry out the requirements of the Rules and Regulations for the Investigation and Remediation of Hazardous Material Releases. DEM additionally offers environmental assessments and grant money for remedial activity.

First, the parties with interest in a property are each provided with a Notification of Release, then DEM will work them to create the various work plans and reports required by the environmental laws and regulations. DEM also works with the EPA or on the EPA’s behalf for any sites federally listed under CERCLA.

In Pawtucket, for example, the EPA grant programs replenish money in the City’s loan program. EPA funding serves to supplement previous funding. This occurred after the City successfully proceeded through remediation and redevelopment plans. The City may now take more applications for the funding, which it will disperse to qualified recipients. In a win/win, the sites can then be remediated, brought into compliance with the various environmental laws and regulations, and put to new use.

If you believe a property you own may fit the definition of a brownfields site, or otherwise require remediation and redevelopment, contact our environmental attorneys. We can tell you more about how you can work with EPA and/or DEM to revitalize the property. Desautel Browning Law has decades of experience with environmental laws and regulations. Email or call us at 401.477.0023 today.

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