SUPERFUND AND THE BROWNFIELDS ISSUE
CRS Report for Congress
Superfund and the Brownfields Issue
Updated January 16, 2001
Analyst in Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service The Library of Congress
Superfund and the Brownfields Issue
Congress has before it numerous bills to expand the Environmental Protection
Agency’s (EPA) brownfields program to help communities restore less seriously
contaminated sites that have the potential for economic development. EPA defines
brownfields as abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities
where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental
contamination. A combination of potential environmental, economic and social
benefits gives this program broad support among governments, environmentalists,
developers, and communities.
The brownfields program was established administratively by EPA under the
aegis of the Superfund program; without explicit authority for it in the law, it has been
financed by the Superfund appropriation. The program has expanded to include 363
brownfields assessment grants (most for $200,000 over 2 years); 106 $350,000
revolving loan fund grants to help finance the actual cleanups; 47 job training grants;
and 28 Brownfields Showcase Communities where technical and financial assistance
from 20 participating federal agencies is being coordinated with state, local and non-
FY1997 was the first year brownfields became a separate budgetary line item,
at $37.7 million. For FY2000 the appropriation was $91.7 million. In the FY2001
budget, the Administration requested and was appropriated $91.6 million.
The 106th Congress extended the brownfields cleanup tax incentive to December
31, 2003, and expanded it to make all brownfields certified by a state environmental
agency eligible for the tax break. Other brownfield bills introduced in the 106th
Congress appeared to confirm the general direction EPA has taken. Two Superfund
reauthorization bills were reported in the House, each of which contained a title on
brownfields. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reported H.R. 1300
on September 30, 1999 (H.Rept. 106-353, Part I), and the Commerce Committee
ordered H.R. 2580 reported on October 13, 1999 (H.Rept. 106-775, part I).
Negotiations on S. 1090 in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee did
not produce an acceptable bipartisan compromise and the committee agreed to end
their deliberations on August 4, 1999.
This report provides the history, background, and operations of the brownfields
program and briefly reviews its current status. For regularly updated information on
legislative activity, see CRS Issue Brief IB10011, Superfund Reauthorization Issues
in the 106th Congress.
Introduction ................................................... 1
Voluntary Cleanups vs. Brownfields..........................2
Why Brownfields Is an Issue.......................................3
Unclear Legal Authority.......................................4
Expansion of the Program.....................................4
The Brownfields Action Agenda.............................4
Pilots ............................................. 5
Partnerships and Outreach.............................6
Jobs and Training....................................6
The Brownfields National Partnership........................6
The Brownfields Showcase Communities......................8
Effectiveness ............................................... 8
Impact of Voluntary Cleanup and Brownfield Programs in the States
How Congress is Responding.....................................13
Appropriations ............................................. 13
Legislation ................................................ 16
Brownfields Tax Incentive................................16
106th Congress Legislative Proposals........................16
List of Figures
Figure 1. Brownfields Funding: FY1993 to FY2000.................14
List of Tables
Table 1. A Comparison of Agencies’ PlannedInvestment in the Partnership Agenda,
and Obligations and Loan Guarantees for Brownfields During Fiscal Years 1997
and 1998 ..................................................7
Table 2. Brownfield and Voluntary Cleanup Program Benefits............13
Table 3. Brownfields Bills in the 106th Congress.......................18
Table 4. Bills with Characterization Grants and Revolving Loan Fund Grants.19
Superfund and the Brownfields Issue
The Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative is an effort begun in 1993
by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address sites that may be
contaminated by hazardous substances,1 but do not pose a serious enough public
health risk to warrant cleanup under the Superfund program.2 EPA defines
brownfields as abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities
where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental
contamination.3 They range in size from a corner gas station to abandoned factories
and mill sites. Estimates of the number of sites range from the tens of thousands to
as high as 450,000; they are often in economically distressed areas. Brownfield sites
face a paradox: they are generally not eligible for remediation funding under the
Superfund program because they pose a low public health risk while, at the same time,
developers may avoid them because of cleanup costs, potential liability, or related
reasons, thereby stalling economic development.
With bipartisan support, the 106th Congress considered a variety of bills, and the
Clinton Administration adopted certain initiatives, which sought to remove
disincentives that impede economic development of these sites. Brownfield issues
have been the specific subject of hearings, and have been discussed in Superfund and
Support for the brownfields concept comes from a wide array of states and
localities, environmental groups, business, developers, and community activists.
Proponents argue that the program has the potential to leverage federal, state, local
and private funds to improve the environment by addressing low-level, low-risk
contamination that otherwise might not be remediated. Once the environmental
1The degree of contamination ranges from nonexistent to very contaminated but not serious
enough to warrant listing on Superfund’s National Priorities List.
2The Superfund program was created by the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or the Superfund law).
3For an overview, see EPA’s brownfields home page, available at:
4See, for example: Senate. Committee on Environment and Public Works,
Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Control, and Risk Assessment. Brownfield Liability andthst
Resource Issues. Hearing, 105 Cong., 1 sess. 1997; House. Committee on Commerce,
Subcommittee on Finance and Hazardous Materials. Field Hearing on Federal Barriers to
Common Sense Cleanups. (February 14, 1997, Columbus, Ohio), available at:
problems are remedied, the economic potential can be realized, they argue. This might
include a wide range of economic uses, possibly creating jobs, recreational
opportunities, and local tax revenues. From this, there may be positive social benefits
for affected communities negatively affected by environmental contamination and
economic decline. Environmental groups and EPA want assurance that EPA will
retain the authority to intervene in cases of threats to public health or the
environment, but otherwise objections to the brownfields legislation are primarily
directed more at specific procedural matters, such as whether the program should go
beyond characterizing sites (i.e., determining the degree and nature of any
contamination) and fund cleanup as well, and whether legislation should be separate
from Superfund amendments.
Two major legislative issues in the congressional debate have been: (1) should
the program be authorized explicitly, and if so how; and (2) should certain tax
incentives be adopted to encourage more cleanups. There is also the strategic and
political question of whether to treat the popular brownfields legislation within overall
Superfund reform legislation or to consider it separately.5
One way states are dealing with contaminated sites is through voluntary cleanup
programs, which had been adopted by 44 states as of the end of 1997. There are, of
course, a variety of federal programs that target urban renewal,6 and the brownfields
program is designed to supplement, not duplicate them. The program itself does not
aim to perform the cleanups. It generally provides grants which are to serve as
catalysts to bring together other resources in the communities to provide the
environmental cleanup component of redevelopment efforts. Overall, the brownfields
program is intended to fill a previously unmet need and to offer hope for a cleaner
environment, new jobs, a stronger tax base, and economic recovery.
Voluntary Cleanups vs. Brownfields. Voluntary cleanup programs are state-
sponsored programs that encourage owners or developers to work cooperatively with
the state outside of the state’s enforcement-driven cleanup program, and thereby
avoid some of the costs and delays associated with that approach. Cleanup standards
are usually identical to those used at state-lead enforcement sites, according to the
Environmental Law Institute (ELI).7 Most states provide incentives for participating
in the program, most commonly some form of liability release. Other incentives
include a streamlined process, financial or tax incentives, and technical assistance.
States created voluntary cleanup programs in the absence of federal legislation or
standards, and these programs vary considerably.
5See CRS Issue Brief IB10011, Superfund Reauthorization Issues in the 106th Congress,
6For more information on urban development, see CRS ReportRS20381, Empowerment
zone/enterprise communities program: information on Round II & III. , by Bruce Mulock.
Updated October 5, 2000, 6 p.
7An Analysis of State Superfund Programs: 50-State Study, 1998 Update. Washington,
States define brownfield sites in different ways, but they usually echo EPA’s
definition, encompassing “urban industrial or commercial facilities that are abandoned
or underutilized due, in part, to environmental contamination or fear of8
contamination.” ELI noted that a few states have different standards or cleanup
approaches for brownfields and voluntary cleanup sites. Florida provides for site-
specific cleanup levels based on risk, allowing institutional or engineering controls
instead of the state-wide remediation levels otherwise required. North Carolina
allows for alternative cleanup strategies focusing on removal of exposure pathways
at certain brownfield sites. And Mississippi’s standards were not set, but the statute
requires that risk assessment be used.9 The difference in brownfields and voluntary
programs in the states is often a matter of semantics. The Environmental Law
Institute distinguished them thus:
Typically, ... voluntary programs do not focus on redevelopment nor do they
target urban sites specifically. Rather voluntary programs are more often aimed
at getting simple, less contaminated sites cleaned up regardless of whether they are
reused. Brownfield programs, on the other hand, are more likely to focus on
redevelopment and be part of a broader State strategy or set of social policies10
aimed at improving distressed urban areas.
Why Brownfields Is an Issue
EPA’s brownfields program has become a legislative issue for several reasons.
First, EPA initiated the program administratively, using Superfund monies; this has
raised the question of its legal authority as well as whether the funds have been
expended in accordance with Superfund statutory criteria. Second, the program has
proved generally popular and has expanded substantially; with the increasing financial
commitment, questions have arisen about the effectiveness of the program and
whether the assumptions underlying the use of the funds have proved valid. These
two issues — legal authority, and program assumptions and effectiveness — have led
to congressional interest in statutorily authorizing the program and articulating its
authorities more clearly — and this comes at the same time other proposals for
amending Superfund are being made. Brownfields legislation has become intertwined
with Superfund proposals, and whether the two should be separated or not is a third
issue. Twelve of the 28 brownfields bills that the 106th Congress considered,
including the two that were reported, would have provided the statutory authority.
The two were Superfund reauthorization bills: H.R. 1300 was reported by the House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on September 30, 1999 (H.Rept. 106-
353, Part I), and H.R. 2580 was ordered reported by the House Commerce
Committee on October 13, 1999 (H.Rept. 106-775, part I).
8 Environmental Law Institute, p. 43.
9 Environmental Law Institute, p. 46.
10 Environmental Law Institute, p. 44.
Unclear Legal Authority
The Superfund program was created to address major threats to public health
and the environment, and the authorized uses of Fund monies are specified in
CERCLA Section 111. EPA administratively created the brownfields program under
Superfund authority and financed it from its Superfund appropriation. Beginning in
1993 and for the first 4 years of the program, EPA drew on Superfund monies for the
program without explicit statutory authority. However, beginning in FY1997,
appropriations legislation included funding for brownfields activities. As the amount
of funding rose and the nature of expenditures went beyond cleanup, some in
Congress questioned EPA’s authority for carrying out the program. This issue was
specifically raised by House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis at
a hearing on EPA’s FY1998 appropriations.11 In response, EPA Administrator Carol
Browner relied on opinions from the agency’s General Counsel which said the
brownfields pilots were legally acceptable under CERCLA section 104 if limited to
pre-cleanup activities. Some of the other activities could be funded under the broad
research authority of section 311(c).12 EPA’s Inspector General (IG) also considered
this question of legislative authority and reviewed the General Counsel’s legal13
opinions, but did not comment further. The lead IG investigator observed that
Congress had appropriated funds for the brownfields program,14 implying that the
appropriations represented tacit congressional acceptance of EPA’s position.
Despite the questions about the program’s statutory basis, congressional
appropriators have acceded to the popularity of the program and have continued to
recognize it with funding from Superfund. (The funding history and congressional
specifications are discussed below.)
Expansion of the Program
In keeping with Administrator Browner’s reference to it as “a work in progress,”
the program has been redefined and expanded several times — the number of
brownfields assessment pilots has been increased from the original 50 to more than
300, brownfields cleanup revolving loan fund grants and job training grants have been
initiated, and the Brownfields National Partnership has been announced.
The Brownfields Action Agenda. In January 1995, Browner announced the
Brownfields Action Agenda outlining EPA’s activities and future plans to help states
11U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Appropriations. Departments of Veterans
Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriationsthst
for 1998, Part 7: Environmental Protection Agency. Hearings, 105 Cong., 1 Sess. 1997,
12The General Counsel’s memoranda may be found at ibid., p. 416-425.
13U.S. EPA. Office of the Inspector General. Superfund — Brownfields: Potential for
Urban Revitalization. March 27, 1998. 31 p. (Audit Report No. E1SHF8-11-0005-
14Telephone conversation with Judy Vanderhoef, Office of the Inspector General, May 7,
and communities. The agenda grouped the activities into four broad and overlapping
categories: the brownfields pilots, clarification of liability and cleanup issues,
partnerships and outreach, and job development and training.
Pilots. The centerpiece of the Action Agenda is the Brownfields Pilot Projects
which provide grants of up to $200,000 over 2 years for site assessments and other
pre-remedial activities. Browner said EPA would fund 50 of these. The first grant
was made to Cleveland, Ohio, in November 1993 “to determine the best way to15
develop a national model for revitalizing these areas across the country,” and two
more pilots were awarded in 1994. Through FY2000 EPA made 363 brownfield
assessment pilot project grants of up to $200,000 over 2 years, for a total of more
than $57 million. In FY 2001 the agency expects to award 35 new assessment pilots,
and an additional $50,000 may be awarded for sites used for greenspace purposes.
EPA also expects to provide supplemental assistance of up to $150,000 to previously16
awarded pilots to continue and expand their efforts.
Clarification of Liability and Cleanup Issues. The second element of the
Action Agenda is intended to relieve uncertainty over cleanup liability. Several of
EPA’s actions relate to property transfer, as the sale of real estate is frequently a
central element to redevelopment.
In a key move, Administrator Browner announced that 25,000 sites would be
removed from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and
Liability Information System (CERCLIS), the Superfund program’s database of sites
suspected of being contaminated by hazardous substances. As required by law, the
worst of the CERCLIS sites (which numbered about 38,000 at the time) are placed
on the National Priorities List (NPL) to be cleaned up under the Superfund program.
However, no procedures existed to remove less seriously contaminated facilities —
many of them brownfields — from the registry, and the stigma of being associated
with the Superfund program reputedly often prevented sale or development of
CERCLIS-listed properties, even if they had never been contaminated in the first
place. Since Browner’s announcement more than 32,000 CERCLIS sites have been
archived. Procedures are now in place to remove from CERCLIS those sites where
no further response action is planned.
EPA also issued guidances which addressed the liability status of prospective
purchasers of contaminated property, and of property owners with groundwater
contamination that originated on neighboring property. Other guidances addressed
the transfer of federally owned property, aspects of the underground storage tank
cleanup program, soil testing, and the RCRA corrective action program.17 In
addition, EPA and the Department of Justice clarified enforcement policy regarding
15The Clinton Administration’s Brownfields Redevelopment Initiative, EPA press
release, June 13, 1996.
16Further information is available from EPA at:
17This program of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) exists to clean up
currently operating hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.
lenders and governmental entities that acquire contaminated property involuntarily.
(The 104th Congress enacted the Asset Conservation, Lender Liability, and Deposit
Insurance Protection Act18 in December 1996 which essentially incorporated the
policy into law.)
Partnerships and Outreach. In addition to state, city, and community
representatives, EPA has developed cooperative relationships with other federal
agencies. Ultimately, in July 1996 EPA created the Interagency Working Group on
Brownfields, with staff from more than 20 federal agencies, and the Interagency
Steering Committee to share knowledge on economic redevelopment and
environmental principles, and to develop a comprehensive, coordinated federal
approach to local communities. These coordinating efforts subsequently led to the
Brownfields National Partnership, and the Showcase Communities, discussed below.
EPA is also working to improve communication with minority communities, and
to increase their involvement early and meaningfully in the brownfields effort. The
Agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) held a series of
public hearings in five cities, and released a report containing a number of
recommendations to incorporate the communities’ own visions of the future and to
identify ways to create healthy and sustainable communities.19 A June 1999 report
found that “the quality and scope of community involvement conducted by the Pilots,
as well as the fact that brownfields are not usually redeveloped into heavy industrial
or other uses which would raise [concerns of discrimination under] Title VI [of the
Civil Rights Act] ..., minimizes the likelihood that Title VI complaints would be raised20
at brownfield sites and hinder redevelopment of these areas.”
Jobs and Training. Starting in FY1998, EPA created job training and
development activities associated with brownfields grant recipients through 47 grants
to community colleges, universities, cities, and non-profit organizations. The 2-year
grants, at up to $200,000 each, are intended to assure that residents of brownfields
communities are trained for jobs that will allow them to benefit from the industrial and
commercial activities associated with site cleanup. Ten more job training pilots are
planned for FY2001.
The Brownfields National Partnership. On May 13, 1997, Vice President
Gore announced an expansion of the program, termed the “Brownfields National
Partnership,” which involved a commitment of about $300 million from “more than21
18Public Law 104-208, Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, 1997, §2504.
19National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Environmental Justice, Urban
Revitalization, and Brownfields: The Search for Authentic Signs of Hope. November 1996.
20U.S. EPA. OSWER. Brownfields Title VI Case Studies: Summary Report. June
[http://www.epa.gov/swerosps/ej/pdf/Report.pdf]. See also:
21See: U.S. EPA. OSWER. Brownfields National Partnership. Available at:
billion to $28 billion in private investment, support up to 196,000 jobs, and protect
up to 34,000 acres of ‘greenfield’ areas outside of cities”22 by encouraging
development in brownfield areas instead of locating in rural or previously
undeveloped areas. The National Partnership also included the Brownfields
Table Table 1. A Comparison of Agencies’ PlannedInvestment in the Partnership
Agenda, and Obligations and Loan Guarantees for Brownfields During Fiscal Years
Planned BrownfieldObligations and Loan
Federal AgencyAssistance as Stated in thePartnership AgendaGuarantees AgenciesMade for Brownfields
($ millions)($ millions)
Dept. Of Housing and Urban $155 $26 a
Economic Development $17$114
Other Federal Agencies b $7 $4
Subtotal $304 $272
HUD’s loan guarantees c$165$141
a The primary reason for the difference between the planned and actual financial assistance for HUD is that about $100
million of the planned assistance for brownfield-related activities was from HUD’s Community Development Block
Grant program. Under this program, communities have wide discretion in how they use their funds and while the
agency does track communities’ use of funds, it does not track whether funds were specifically spent on brownfields.
Therefore, HUD could not report an amount of obligations made for brownfields under its block grant program.
b The other federal agencies are the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, and Transportation, the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Department of Commerce), and the General Services
c Under HUD’s Section 108 loan guarantee program, the agency may guarantee loans to local governments to conduct
large-scale economic revitalization projects. Local governments must pledge Community Development Block Grants
funds that they have received as partial security for financing these projects.
GAO’s sources: Documentation supporting the Partnership Agenda and agencies’ brownfield managers.
22U.S. EPA. Office of Outreach and Special Programs. Brownfields National Partnership
Action Agenda. May 1997. 3 p. (pub. no. EPA 500-F-97-090)
23GAO 1999 report. p. 5.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) reported on the status of the Partnership
in an April 1999 report.24 It stated that the agencies came close to their goals,
obligating $272 million of the planned $304 million (89%), and guaranteeing $141
million of loans compared to the planned $165 million (85%). (See Table 1.) GAO
said the apparent $129 million shortfall in the Department of Housing and Urban
Development’s (HUD) obligations was due to HUD’s inability to discern whether
Community Development Block Grants were spent on brownfields or on other
authorized activities. (See table footnote a.)
The agencies were not able to measure economic outcomes of their brownfield
programs, GAO said. The benefits of new jobs, more private investment, and
protected greenfields “were estimates of potential long-term benefits, generated from
economic models, that might result from the federal support for redeveloping
brownfields. They were not goals that the agencies could measure and achieve within25
the 2-year period of the Partnership initiative.”
The Brownfields Showcase Communities. One element of the Brownfields
National Partnership is the Showcase Communities program, under which 28 different
types of communities (such as urban, rural, coastal) have been selected to demonstrate
how federal support could be applied successfully to redevelop their brownfields
properties. GAO reported that the 10 federal agencies they reviewed had improved
their coordination of brownfield activities both within their own agency and between
agencies. The showcase communities also acknowledged improvement: “They are
now better aware of the federal resources available ... to support brownfield
redevelopment and how to access them and are getting more technical and financial
help from agencies.... [A] major reason for this success is that EPA loaned a staff
person to each city under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, for 2 years.”26 Four
professional associations involved with brownfield issues agreed with this
This expansion of the program into new activities brought to the fore the
question of whether the funds for it were being expended in accord with the statutory
criteria in Superfund.
24U.S. GAO. Environmental Protection: Agencies Have Made Progress in
Implementing the Federal Brownfield Partnership Initiative. April 1999. 20 p.
(GAO/RCED-99-86) Hereinafter cited as GAO 1999 report.
25GAO 1999 report. p. 13.
26GAO 1999 report, p. 9-12.
27The professional associations are the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste
Management Officials, the National Association of Counties, the National Association of
Local Government Environmental Professionals, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. GAO
GAO reported in April 1998 on EPA’s use of its appropriations in FY1997 and
FY1998.28 The majority of the funds went to state, local, and tribal governments for
assessing brownfields, for seed money to establish revolving loan funds, and for
supporting state voluntary cleanup programs. The audits showed that, overall, the
three recipients “were spending the funds in accordance with OMB’s guidance”29 on
the Superfund law.
Both the GAO report and an EPA Inspector General report found instances of
a lack of focus and misdirected efforts. GAO determined that $3.7 million (38.5%)
of the total $9.6 million awarded in the outreach and job training categories was for
brownfield-specific activities. And the Inspector General reported that —
While the enthusiasm for EPA’s Brownfields Initiative was readily apparent in all
of the cities we visited, the impact of EPA’s grant funds on redevelopment was less
evident. Of the $1 million awarded for the five site assessment pilot projects we
visited, less than $150,000 was spent on actual site assessments. If we exclude
from this figure the funds used on sites not meeting the definition of a Brownfield,
only $65,000 has been spent on actual site assessments.30
From the perspective of the beneficiaries of the brownfields program, however,
the broader use of the funds beyond site assessment is appropriate. A U.S.
Conference of Mayors (USCM) survey of their membership in April 1999 indicates
a strong perception of need. Of USCM’s 1,050 member cities, 223 responded.
Among their findings were the following:31
!180 cities estimated they had 19,236 brownfield sites.
!176 cities estimated that brownfields occupied 178,376 acres of land.
!113 respondent cities (51%) have populations less than 100,000; they
accounted for 2,890 brownfield sites totaling over 89,020 acres.
Regarding potential benefits of brownfield redevelopment, the survey reported
!Of those cities estimating potential additional tax revenues, the “conservative
estimate” totaled $955 million annually for the 153 cities responding, while the
“optimistic estimate” totaled nearly $2.7 billion annually for the 155 cities
!168 cities estimated that more than 675,000 jobs could be created if their
brownfields were redeveloped.
28U.S. GAO. Superfund: EPA’s Use of Funds for Brownfield Revitalization. March
29GAO 1998 report. p. 1.
30Inspector General’s report. p. 9.
31U.S. Conference of Mayors. Recycling America’s Land: A National Report on
Brownfields Redevelopment, Volume II. April 1999. 76 p. Not all respondents answered all
questions. An additional 28 cities responded to the questionnaire, but indicated that,
according to their definition, they had no brownfields. p. 9-11.
These statements speak to the perceived size of the problem and the potential
benefits of redevelopment in the sample cities. The survey also asked the mayors
about impediments to development, and the responses were consistent with earlier
reports. The three most frequently cited impediments to redevelopment were:
!a lack of cleanup funds (204 cities, or 91% of 223 respondents),
!liability issues (175 cities, 78%), and
!the need for environmental assessments (139 cities, 62%).
However, a joint HUD/EPA study32 raised some questions about whether the
program was meeting those needs and being effective. The study challenged some of
the original assumptions of the program, suggesting that part of the effort might be
misdirected. In particular, it suggested that the prospect for redevelopment was
probably more affected by the underlying economics of any proposed development
of a brownfield site than by the liability risk arising from the possible contamination.
Overall, the study indicated that a brownfield site has to be ripe for development
from an economic perspective before improvements to its environmental situation will
make a difference. (This is not in conflict with the Mayors’ report; 76% said they
would need additional subsidies or resources, such as infrastructure upgrades and
demolition of obsolete buildings, in order to attract private investment.) Many of the
HUD/EPA study’s findings had to do with state efforts, but there were implications
for the federal program.33
!If a state employs land-use-based cleanup standards and institutional controls
(which can bring faster, cheaper redevelopment) the federal government must
ensure protection of health and the environment.
!Inasmuch as economic development agencies are generally developers’ point
of entry to the environmental arena, training is needed for the agencies’ staffs
on environmental standards, remediation technologies, and liability issues,
particularly in rural and smaller urban areas.
!Similar technical education for lenders, especially smaller lenders and those in
areas with little past history in redevelopment, holds promise of increased
These two studies highlight different perspectives on the importance of liability
in constraining brownfields development. Writings about brownfields often assume
that the threat of triggering Superfund liability has a chilling effect on redevelopment.
In the U.S. Conference of Mayors study 78% of the respondent cities cited liability
issues as an impediment. But the HUD study concluded that “liability concerns were
never the sole ‘critical’ environmental obstacle to redevelopment” (critical being
defined as a make-or-break factor). Actual cleanup costs (including assessment,
remediation, and legal expenses) relative to the total project costs “dominates all other
32The Urban Institute, Northeast-Midwest Institute, University of Louisville, and University
of Kentucky. The Effects of Environmental Hazards and Regulation on Urban
Redevelopment. (Jointly sponsored by U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and
EPA) Washington, February 1998. 86 p. Hereinafter cited as HUD/EPA study.
33HUD/EPA study. p. vii-xi.
factors as an investment deterrent,” the report said.34 Possible future liability due to
previously unknown contamination, possible litigation, and other uncertain events
never constituted the sole significant environmental obstacle affecting site
In any event, the importance of the liability threat has most often commanded
attention. For example, in Superfund: Barriers to Brownfields Redevelopment (June35
1996), GAO concluded that CERCLA’s liability provisions are a serious obstacle
to development that discouraged lenders, developers, and property owners from
participating in renewal projects. Both federal and state cleanup liability laws can
apply at any site, not just those on Superfund’s National Priorities List. GAO noted
that there are other barriers to development, however, such as the actual cleanup
costs and high urban property taxes. And in March 1997 the agency said that most
of the state voluntary cleanup program managers in the 15 states it surveyed judged
that fear of federal Superfund liability discouraged some people from initiating a36
One’s view of the importance of the liability constraint on brownfields
development has consequences for how one would support efforts to achieve
development. To the extent liability is a key constraint, attention to reducing liability
is important. It is being addressed both through EPA guidances in the Brownfields
Action Agenda, as discussed previously, and by funding risk characterization and
remediation. On the other hand, to the extent that liability is a subordinate issue
compared to the basic community economic situation, attention and funding might
more appropriately focus on such activities as research, partnerships and outreach,
and job development and training, along with site assessment. Thus the elements of
the program necessary for effectiveness depend on an accurate understanding of the
true impediments to development of brownfields.
Impact of Voluntary Cleanup and Brownfield Programs in the States.
Another perspective is offered by the third survey of the 50 states conducted by the
Northeast-Midwest Institute in 2000. It revealed that there is increasing activity, with
new state programs being put in place and others being modified to accommodate
their particular situation and needs. The information in Table 2 on page 12, which
does not distinguish between brownfield and voluntary cleanup accomplishments, was
compiled from the Institute’s state-by-state listings. One should be aware that
significant differences exist among the states’ programs, and that eligibility
requirements for participation in voluntary programs vary. The authors also note that,
“Most states have yet to gather hard economic information on their programs. Many
programs are still too new to gain a handle on impacts; other states have not yet been
able to find the resources to collect any data beyond the number of sites in their
34HUD/EPA study. p. 44-46.
35GAO/RCED-96-125. June 17, 1996. 15 p.
36U.S. GAO. Superfund: Proposals to Remove Barriers to Brownfields Redevelopment
(Testimony). March 4, 1997. 5 p. (GAO/T-RCED-97-87)
37Charles Bartsch and Bridget Dorfman. Brownfields “State of the States – 2000”
Accordingly, the “economic impact” figures in Table 2 should be regarded as
minimum numbers that provide a glimpse of the order of magnitude of the states’
accomplishments. Thirty states are not currently tracking economic impacts, and
another three have no brownfields or voluntary cleanup program in place (North
Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming).
Report: What’s Happened in the 50 States This Year? Washington, Northeast-Midwest
Institute, October 2000. p. iii.
Table Table 2. Brownfield and Voluntary Cleanup Program Benefits
Cleanup ActivityQuantityNo. of States Reporting
Sites entering the13,18742 (All except IA, MA, NV, NC,
brownfield programND, SD, WV, WY)
Sites completing the5,21235 (All except DE, GA, ID, IA, LA,
programMA, MI, MN, NV, NC, ND, SD, VT,WV, WY)
Acreage of affected sites7,227 acres8 (AR, CA, CO ID, MD, OH, RI,
Jobs created91,60017 (CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, HI, KY,
LA, MI, MN, MO, NH, OH, PA, RI,
Housing units developed9,4416 (CA, CO, DE, MI, OH, TX)
Tax revenues added$482 million3 (CA, ME, RI)
Tax base increased$582 million4 (CT, MN, TX, WI)
Businesses created and24211 (CO, DE, FL, HI, KY, LA, MD,
retainedOH, NH, RI, WI)
Amount of private$2,095.2 million5 (DE, FL, MI, MN, NH)
How Congress is Responding
With the brownfields program’s administrative origin and its subsequent
expansion, it has increasingly attracted Congress’ attention. This has been manifest
both in oversight of the funds by the appropriations committees and in proposals for38
specifying elements of the program through amendments to CERCLA. The
committee report accompanying EPA’s FY1999 appropriation directed the agency
to examine long-term funding options for brownfields, indicating a recognition of its
popularity and the likelihood of its continuation, but also questioning the use of
Superfund moneys to finance brownfield activities.
For the first years of the program, FY1993 - FY1996, EPA funded it from
money appropriated for the Superfund program. (See Figure 1.) In FY1997,
proposing major expansion of the program, the agency requested and received $37.7
38For ongoing legislative activity, see CRS Issue Brief IB10011, Superfund
Reauthorization Issues in the 106th Congress, updated regularly.
Figure 1. Brownfields Funding: FY1993 to FY2000
Millions of Dollars
0.2 0.7 2
1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Source: EPA, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response
million specifically for brownfields. That amount was 2.6% of the Superfund
appropriation, from which all the funds for the brownfields program have come. In
addition to continuing the grants for site assessment and other pre-remedial activities,
EPA used FY1997 appropriations to support revolving loan funds (RLFs) to help
finance actual cleanups. Through these RLFs EPA funded 24 $350,000 grants to
The FY1998 appropriation (P.L. 105-65) increased EPA’s brownfields program
by $50 million, to $87.4 million39 (5.8% of the Superfund appropriation). It also
provided $25 million for HUD’s Brownfield Economic Development Initiative
(BEDI), the amount requested by the Administration. However, questioning EPA’s
authority to use Superfund monies for revolving loan funds (RLF) “to clean up sites
which are neither emergency in nature nor eligible for NPL listing,”40 the conference
committee denied the request unless RLFs were specifically authorized in subsequent
For FY1999 Congress approved the $91 million requested by the Administration
for the brownfields program, which included funds to capitalize RLFs in 100
communities. HUD’s request to double its brownfields funding to $50 million was
rejected; it remained at $25 million. For FY2000 Congress appropriated the full
$91.7 million EPA requested.
39This appropriated amount differs from the amount in Table 1, which shows
40H.Rept. 105-297, Conference report to accompany H.R. 2158. p. 121.
Brownfields Tax Incentive. A tax incentive allowing the costs of redeveloping
brownfields to be deducted in the current year was enacted in the 105th Congress as
part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997.41 Good for 3 years, until December 31,th
2000, in the 106 Congress, the tax break was extended to the end of 2003 and
expanded to include all brownfields certified by the appropriate state agency.
The 1997 act limited eligibility for the tax break to the 76 brownfields pilots
announced prior to February 1, 1997, areas with a poverty rate of 20% or more,
adjacent industrial or commercial areas, and Empowerment Zones and Enterprise
Communities (EZ/ECs). The Tax Extenders Act of 199942 added a year to the life of
the incentive to December 31, 2000, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 200143
extended the brownfields tax incentive for an additional 2 years, to December 31,
2003, and broadened eligibility for the tax break to include any site containing a
hazardous substance that is certified by the appropriate state environmental agency;
Superfund sites are excluded.
This provision resolved an issue that arose from the tax treatment of costs of
cleaning up contaminated land. In general, costs incurred for new buildings or for
permanent improvements to increase the value of a property must be capitalized (that
is, the cost must be deducted over a period of years). Some expenses, such as repairs,
are currently deductible (that is, deductible in the year in which the cost is incurred
— this is also called expensing). It is a considerable financial advantage to be able
to fully deduct an expense in one year rather than many.
The issue arose as a result of a 1994 ruling by the Internal Revenue Service,
holding that the costs of cleaning up contaminated land and groundwater are currently
deductible, but only for the person who contaminated the land.44 Also, the cleanup
would have to be done without any anticipation of putting the land to a new use.
Further, any monitoring equipment with a useful life beyond the year it was acquired
would have to be capitalized. On the other hand, a person who acquired previously
contaminated land, such as a brownfield site, would have to capitalize his cleanup
costs, spreading them out over a number of years. Cleanup costs are a major barrier
to redevelopment, and the IRS ruling made a challenging situation even more difficult
for developers. The Taxpayer Relief Act thus had the effect of overturning the ruling
and allowing developers who had not caused the contamination to deduct cleanup
costs in the current year, rather than to have to capitalize them.
106th Congress Legislative Proposals. In the 106th Congress 27 brownfields
bills, including six broader Superfund reauthorization bills, were introduced. The bills
largely reflected the general approach that EPA has adopted, and differed primarily
in what additional features they included, such as liability protection and tax
41P.L. 105-34, H.R. 2014/S. 949, H.Rept. 105-220.
42P.L. 106-170, H.R. 1180, H.Rept. 106-478.
43P.L. 106-554, H.R. 4577, H.Rept. 106-1033.
44Revenue Ruling 94-38.
incentives. They fell into three groups. Twelve of the bills (including all the
reauthorization measures) would have given statutory authority to the brownfields
program, and most of these also would have provided some degree of relief from
Superfund liability. Nine did not address the issue of establishing the program, but
would have provided different combinations of liability protection and/or tax
The other six bills would have made funds available for brownfields in agencies
other than EPA . H.R. 1776 (a bill to expand home ownership in the U.S.) would
have provide statutory authority for the HUD brownfields program, authorizing the
use of Community Development Block Grants for “environmental cleanup and
economic development related to brownfields;” it passed the House but wen no
further. S. 1408 would have made funds available for brownfields under a program
in the Small Business Administration, and S. 1573 would have provided funding via
a proposed Environmental Stewardship Fund that would have used receipts from
Outer Continental Shelf revenues. Three bills would have authorized the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers to undertake brownfield cleanups. One of the Superfund
reauthorization bills in the first group, H.R. 2956 , also would have provided funds
to the HUD brownfields program.
The lists of sponsors and co-sponsors show bipartisan support, and the testimony
at hearings has been generally favorable, at least with regard to the program and its
objectives. The provisions of the bills of the 106th Congress are summarized in Table
3, and the features of the bills authorizing characterization grants and revolving loan
fund grants are presented in Table 4.
Two of the Superfund reauthorization bills were reported — H.R. 1300 from the
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and H.R. 2580 from the Commerce
Committee. At the request of Speaker Dennis Hastert the two committees tried to
merge the bills in time to bring a Superfund reauthorization bill to the floor before the
first session adjourned, but reportedly encountered difficulties in discussions with the
Ways and Means Committee over reauthorizing the Superfund taxes. There was no
further action. Both bills would have essentially codified the existing brownfield
program, authorized RLFs, and addressed liability issues. H.R. 1300 also would have
provided assistance for state voluntary cleanup. (Further discussion of the bills canth
be found in CRS Issue Brief IB10011, Superfund Reauthorization Issues in the 106
Table Table 3. Brownfields Bills in the 106th Congress
Program or Activity
H.R. 3579 (Andrews)
S. 20 (Lautenberg)S.23 (Specter)S. 1090 (J. Chafee) *S. 1105 (Baucus) *S. 1537 (J. Chafee) *S. 1792 (Roth)S. 2334 (L.Chafee)S. 2436 (Abarham)S. 2590 (VoinovichS. 2700 (L. Chafee)H.R. 1300 (Boehlert) *H.R. 1391 (Regula)H.R. 1537 (Quinn)H.R. 1630 (Coyne)H.R. 1750 (Towns)H.R. 1756 (Franks)H.R. 2264 (N. Johnson)H.R. 2574 (J. Maloney)H.R. 2580 (Greenwood) *H.R. 2956 (Pallone) *
X XXXXXX XXXXX
731 X X
b XXcXcXc XcXcX XXXc
://wiki X X
a Grants are for cleanup, not for establishing a revolving loan fund.b
Or no federal enforcement action allowed.c
Also, liability relief for lenders, developers, and local governments.
making funds available for brownfields in agencies other than EPA: H.R. 2956 (Department of Housing and Urban Development); S. 1408 (Small Business Administration);
(Interagency Environmental Stewardship Fund); S. 2335, S. 2437, and H.R. 4411 (U.S. Army). In addition, H.R. 1776 and S. 2590 provide statutory authority for the HUD
Table Table 4. Bills with Characterization Grants and Revolving Loan Fund Grants
$200,000Revolving Loan Fund Grants
BillNumber of YearsCharacterization GrantsAnnual Are StatesProgram
(Sponsor)AuthorizedAuthorization EligibleAuthorizationMaximum Grant Eligible Recipients
($ million)Recipients?($ million)
S. 205$35Yes$50$500,000State & Local
S. 233$50-$55-$60 aYes$50-$55-$60 a$200,000 bState & Local
S. 10905$100 for both programsYes$100 for both programs$350,000 b EPAState & Local
(J. Chafee)may waive limit Governments
731S. 1105(Baucus)5$35Yes$60$500,000 cState & LocalGovernments
S. 15375$100 for both programsYes$100 for both programs$350,000 may increase toState & Local
g/wS. 2590amount of grants andState & Local
s.or(Voinovich)not statedauthorization not statedYesnot stated$350,000 bGovernments
S. 27005$150 for both programsYes (grants may be$150 for both programs$1,000,000State & Local
://wiki(L. Chafee)up to $350,000)Governments
httpH.R. 13005“such sums as may beYes“such sums as may be$1,000,000State & Local
(Boehlert) necessary” necessary” Governments
H.R. 17505$35Yes (grants are for$65$1,000,000Local Governments
H.R. 17563$15Yes$30$500,000State & Local
H.R. 25805“such sums as may beYes“such sums as may be$1,000,000State & LocalGovernments, Site
(Greenwood)necessary”necessary”Owners or Developers
H.R. 29565$40No$80$500,000 EPALocal Governments d
(Pallone)may waive limit
Notes:a S. 23's authorization increases each year; the amount shown is for both programs.b
The grants are for cleanup, not for revolving loan funds.c
Also provides for $200,000 cleanup grants to local applicants.d
States may receive grants to facilitate the transfer of funds to local governments that do not have the capabilities to manage grants.