Senior Fellow Presents on Trump’s Impact on Brownfields

NEMWI Senior Fellow Charlie Bartsch addressed concerns over the Trump administration’s approach to brownfield redevelopment efforts with a presentation at the Minnesota Brownfields Association on July 24. The presentation examined actions the administration has considered that would reduce federal involvement in brownfield redevelopment and advised state governments and nonprofits seeking to combat brownfields with decreased federal support.

In explaining the significance of the presentation, Mr. Bartsch stated: “Brownfield redevelopment is at a critical juncture, in terms of the type and level of federal involvement, it is important to make local governments and advocates such as the Minnesota Brownfields Association aware of the current situation—and the opportunities still available to move ahead with brownfields.”

Though Congress has ignored the President’s requested budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) brownfields program, the administration can still take unilateral actions to undermine federal brownfields redevelopment efforts. Keeping political appointee positions unfilled, buying out experienced staff for early retirement, and changing grant guidelines and enforcement priorities are all actions reserved for the executive branch. Such actions would put more of the burden of brownfields redevelopment on state and local governments and the nonprofits and public-private partnerships they support.

The administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget cuts to the EPA required the elimination of regional brownfields programs and a reduction in project grants funding. Congress has been more favorable: the FY 2018 Interior and Environment appropriations bill has increased the EPA’s brownfields grants program by $10 million, but still decreased the brownfields program’s staffing budget by $100 thousand and cut the EPA’s total budget by $528 million.

Bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress this year demonstrates continued commitment to funding federal brownfields grants, but also contain provisions that define set-asides and carve-outs that could hamstring the EPA’s flexibility to address community priorities and address emerging revitalization situations. Other provisions authorizing loaned EPA staff to communities and numerous tiny technical assistance grants would put pressure on the EPA’s shrinking work force.

On the other hand, key bills include important provisions expanding grant eligibility and clarifying leaseholder interests that better reflect current public-private real estate development trends and opportunities. They also would bring more certainty to efforts like area-wide planning and allow grantees to recover some of their administrative costs.

Important legislation introduced this year includes:

  • H.R. 3017, the Brownfields Enhancement, Economic Redevelopment, and Reauthorization Act, introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV-01)
  • H.R. 1758, the Brownfields Reauthorization Act, introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Etsy (D-CT-05)
  • H.R. 1747, the Brownfields Authorization Increase Act, introduced by Rep. Frank Palone (D-NJ-06)
  • S. 822, the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act, introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and approved by the full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on July 12.

Mr. Bartsch’s presentation concluded that brownfields redevelopment organizations will need to rely on tools such as state government guarantees, tax credits, public-private partnerships, and other creative financing methods to fill the gap left behind by federal funding. He cites promising examples of public-private partnerships from across the nation as inspiration for such unconventional thinking. Bartsch also encouraged engagement with Congressmen to push for continued federal involvement in brownfields redevelopment.

For more information, please contact Charlie Bartsch, Senior Fellow at the Northeast-Midwest Institute. The slides used during Mr. Bartsch’s presentation can be viewed here.