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Improving Land Revitalization Efforts

2010 April 1

How can EPA improve and expand on land revitalization efforts?

Cleaning up contamination is vitally important to the physical health of America’s communities, but putting clean land back into productive use brings with it a range of social and economic benefits that will strengthen those communities for years to come. EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response offers many types of grants and funding to promote land revitalization.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Nat Miullo of EPA permalink
    April 7, 2010

    How can EPA improve and expand on land revitalization efforts?

    1. EPA has already done much to expand its traditional, statutory driven roles, in order to help restore communities to environmentally heathy and economically stable status.

    Initiatives like the DOT/EPA/HUD Partnership and Sustainable Communities Pilot Projects are good beginings. There just is not enough resources available to meet the demand the nation faces in urban and rural comunities. Staff working on revitalization projects in theprograms just can not do any more. They are worn thin, worn out nad overwhelmed.

    Because of this, in many ways, Revtialization is still really a “concept called a program”. It is not real. It is not respected in the way that the word “Revitalization” implies. Not by EPA mangement and not by the public as a real force in EPA.

    For example, the EPA’s Revitalization Coordinators/Advisor manage a very limited set of very controlled resources. They have very little impact, leverage or influence in the true revitalization arena. That is due to a lack of resources and a lack of inspirational leadership for Revitalization, the “concept called a program”.

    This is a group that could be utilized much more. For example, they could have been (could be) asked to, and been/be given resources to manage the Area Wide Projects Initiative. They were not. So, what they end up being is a group of individuals trying to either do too many jobs, or not enough, because revitalization, real cross program, umbrella revitalization is not respected by Regional and National Program Managers. It is put up with and managed with as little effort as possible – because the demands on other program areas are so huge (e.g. Superfund Remedial, Removal, Brownfields, RCRA delegated to States, UST/LUST, etc.).

    Revitalization speaks as if it has a great nexus to Community Based Sustainability and Smart Growth. In theory, it certainly does! But this is not ever really connected to the core program work of EPA, based on statutory work outside of Brownfields. Site Assessment and clean up is understood, Remedial Decisions are the bread and butter of the organization, they are what EPA is held accountble for and what is invested in.

    True creative and community driven environmental and economic revitalization is not respected or engaged in by many EPA staff because they either do not have resources to empower them to do this work, or the resource, mission turf battles and mixed messages errode public trust that EPA can actually help communities develop and achieve their vision.

    Developers, community members, see and hear EPA speaking with too many messages, too many faces. For example, we say we can manage the concerns about liability, but no qualified developer appproaches EPA without great trepidation. The Agency has not spoken with one voice on this issue, even though it has accomplished several specific examples that meet what seem to be competing goals. Revitalization must move efficiently, fast, in step with economic availability because there is so little extra resource to go around to revitalize, let alone do site assessment and actual clean up. Yet, the pace at which EPA can resolve liability anxiety, let alone actual indemnification, is not impressive.

    A policy summit between OSWER and OECA (DOJ?) with clean up contractors, NGOs and developers in the room, similar to what EPA is doing with the Reewable Energy on COntaminated Lands – Repower America’s Lands Initiative, with a goal of really identifying how to clearly demonstrate that revitalization within communities will happen faster and in areas communities need and want to revitalize, would be a good effort.

  2. John Schweizer of T3W Business Solutions, Inc. permalink
    April 20, 2010

    In the March/April 2010 issue of ASTM Standardization News, an article titled “Making Cleaner Greener” authored by Adele Bassett reports on a proposed ASTM Standard for Green and Sustainable Site Remediation. In the article, Bassett quotes Helen Waldorf of the University of Massachusetts who says, “in my 17 years with ASTM, I’ve never seen such huge demand for a standard. State and federal agencies, private industries, consultants and people who live in affected communities want green and sustainable cleanup operations.” Based on my experience as TA at the AMCO Chemical Superfund Site, I have to agree with Ms. Waldorf’s assessment.
    This article prompts me to suggest thinking about how we define land revitalization and what it means to return land to productive use. Perhaps land that becomes a park-like setting in an urban area, part of a green belt, or open space in rural areas is as revitalized as land that gets put into productive use as a residential development, an office park, or other commercial use. Rethinking the definition of revitalization could lead to solutions such as including a “green and sutainable” criterion in Feasibility Studies, and greater use of phytoremediation, phytoextraction, green capping, and wetlands restoration for site remediation. Such methods promote air quality improvements in urban areas, a groundwater sink for closed loop groundwater treatment systems, generally improve property values in the surrounding area, and have other “side” benefits.
    Such an approach would also tend to alleviate some of the problems pointed out by Mr. Miullo in his comment. Mr. Miullo states, “True creative and community driven environmental and economic revitalization is not respected or engaged in by many EPA staff because they either do not have resources to empower them to do this work, or the resource, mission turf battles and mixed messages errode public trust that EPA can actually help communities develop and achieve their vision.” By rethinking what it means to return land to productive use and increasing the use of green and sustainable methods during site remediation, many of the turf battles cited by Mr. Muillo can disappear. This is because revitalization becomes a natural outgrowth of the application of green remediation methods.

  3. Gary Victorine of U.S. EPA Region 5 permalink
    May 20, 2010

    With respect to re-use and re-development of former RCRA sites, I still hear much concern over what is frequently called RCRA liability. Unlike CERCLA liability, where there is the BFPP provision, RCRA liability continues to be interpreted as never going away even after the hazardous waste activies cease and the site is cleaned up. This concern over RCRA cleanup obligations has caused many potential purchasers to forgo well-located former RCRA sites and instead develop distant greenfield sites. I believe EPA needs to clarify a point at which RCRA liability ceases for these kinds of former-TSD facilities.

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