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How can EPA’s brownfield resources be better aligned with private resources to enable a successful brownfield project?

2011 December 6

During these challenging economic times, EPA is looking to maximize resources. The private sector could offer additional opportunities for the Brownfields program to spur economic development and revitalize communities.

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.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Darsi Foss of WDNR permalink
    December 8, 2011

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment. Here are some unofficial thoughts from Wisconsin’s brownfields program:

    1. have a more friendly interpretation of a “responsible party” for petroleum RLF money. the enforcement-strict interpretation does not belong in a grant program. this is really a huge problem. if there were 5 owners of a leaking ust property, how do we know who caused the problem? EPA assumes everyone, and if one of the 5 has money, then we can’t give a RLF grant or loan. however, the state has no enforcement case, because we have no definitive data that says it occured during the ownership of the remaining viable RP. This situation makes no sense.

    2. give existing RLF coalitions more money on a continuous basis. Like the clean water fund, provided a yearly or biennial amount to the RLF coalitions. they already have the infrastructure in place to get the money out quickly. and for private parties, time is money. and if there is continuous funding, the private sector is more likely to approach the RLF coalition for assistance.

    3. streamline the system, and get rid of 3/4 of the 30 pages of terms and conditions. Local governments are used to red tape; the private sector avoids it like the plague. We scare people away from the money.

    4. Allow petroleum money to be used for a “betterment” cleanup, even if there is a viable RP. Many petroleum sites have gone through a state petroleum cleanup, and the clean up was based on the current use at the time; often that was industrial or commercial, which isn’t a high end cleanup. Now, developers need funds to develop the property, which sometimes means a higher end clean up and removal of contaminated soils for that new landuse. If there is a viable RP, we can’t give them the money. However, the state has no legal authority to make the former, viable owner clean up because they met their legal obligations to the state the first time they cleaned up. This is another development obstacle.

    Thanks for listening. I hope you get some good suggestions.

  2. Aaron Scheff of Idaho Department of Environmental Quality permalink
    December 8, 2011

    Thank you for this forum and for the opportunity to comment on this important question.
    1. A general comment I have for better aligning public and private resources for the goal of brownfield redevelopment would be to reduce both the red tape and the period of time required to conduct assessments and cleanups. The 104(k) ARC Grant program is woefully out of step with the vast majority of private redevelopment projects.

    A time lapse of one year between applying for grants and negotiating a CAG plus another 6 months or so to contract with a consultant for assessment or cleanup activities and complying with ESA/NHPA requirements, means a minimum of a year and a half before on the ground work can even begin. This fits 0% of the private redevelopment projects with which we have partnered in the last 8 years.

    2. Eliminating the eligibility differential between petroleum and hazardous substance sites would be a tremendous help. Many more public/private partnerships would exist for petroleum site redevelopment if petroleum site eligibility mirrored hazardous substance site eligibility. Two owners removed is an extremely vexing metric to meet, especially in rural areas where families tend to hold on to property for generations. We have had to pass on numerous potential petroleum redevelopment projects at the assessment/cleanup/RLF level due to eligibility issues.

    Petroleum sites should be some of the fastest, cheapest, and easiest sites to shepherd through assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment due to their location, access to critical infrastructure, and the level of professional experience consultants have in dealing with petroleum contamination. The eligibility requirements are creating an artificial barrier to redeveloping petroleum sites.

    3. Stabilize and if possible increase the level of 128(a) funding to states who utilize 128(a) funds to complete site specific assessments and cleanups. As the ASTSWMO Brownfields Focus Group communicated to Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus, 128(a) assessments and cleanups cost substantially less (~1/3) and take substantially less time (~1/3) than 104(k) assessments and cleanups. Use of rapid response site specific activities is much more aligned with development projects than a multi-year grant.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to comment.

  3. Rick Bean of Kansas Department of Health and Environment permalink
    December 8, 2011

    Thank you for the opportunity to provide input. Brownfields is a vital program in our state to promote redevelopment and reuse of underutilized properties. In looking at the statistics and from actual experiences it seems that rural communities are at a disadvantage competing for 104(k) funding as they simply do not have the expertise, resources or staff to apply for, and carry out commitments through the duration of the grant. If the goal is to streamline the process, be more cost effecient and make it easier for rural communities to participate in brownfield then the States 128(a) programs should be utilized. The problem with this is that each year states continue to take reductions (up to 10% this year) in the funding provided to them by EPA. With less funding it is becoming very difficult to provide much needed assistance to rural communities. One way to make sure States continue to suppot brownfields in rural areas is to stablize the funding (no more reduction) and look into ways to increase the level of 128(a) funding for states to provide technical assistance, site specific assessments and cleanups. Evaluate the possiblity of moving some of the 104(k) funding that rural communities can compete for to 128 (a) so states can provide the much needed assistance to those communities.

    As far as the 104(k) process (or with most federal grants) cut the red tape, shorten the time frame from application to award, do not distinguish between hazardous substance and petroleum grants, allow assessment and cleanup in the same grant, develop a more equitable scoring system (rural verse metro), and distribute the funding more equally.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

  4. Chris Bunbury of Environmental Risk Managers, Inc. permalink
    December 8, 2011

    In my 20 plus years as an environmental Strategist™ working with Brownfields, the main hold up with a majority of Brownfields not coming to fruition is a lack of financial assurance. The environmental insurance industry offers a variety of insurance products designed to assist in offering financial assurance so government, developers, lenders, engineers, contractors…. have the ability to deliver a successful Brownfield projects to be the economic multipliers they are intended to be.

    Some states have identified the importance environmental insurance plays in successful Brownfields and they allow some or all of the environmental insurance costs to be reimbursable through tax increment financing or other measures.

    The critical role environmental insurance plays in Brownfields have not been and still are not understood by the masses of both the public and private sector.

  5. Mark Smith of Georgia Environmental Protection Division permalink
    December 9, 2011

    The greatest return on taxpayer investment in individual brownfield projects occurs when that investment results in achievement of the minimum profit threshold necessary for private investment to occur. That threshold will vary from city to city, as will the types of sites that are capable of attracting private resources. Identifying projects most likely to be successful is best done at the local and state government levels with significant input from private investors. The current 104(k) grant process for individual sites is not accomplishing this.

    Overall, the best return on taxpayers investment is the 128(a) funding for states. There are far more contaminated properties that need no public subsidies than exist in the narrow range where $200,000 makes the difference in exceeding the profit threshold. Failure of states to serve the redevelopment industry in a timely and effective manner will inhibit site cleanups and economic growth far more than can ever be offset by grants for individual sites.

  6. Bob Wenzlau of Terradex permalink
    December 10, 2011

    Thanks so much for inviting input. This is an exciting area to realize that more cost efficiency and better utilization of private sector services could result in more robust environmental protection.

    I offer a few areas of interest.

    First, don’t try to compete internally with what private sector can offer. Terradex has strived to provide information services for use by the USEPA that are innovative and powerful for tracking safe use of developed brownfield properties (institutional control and engineering control assurance). The progress often appears hampered by internal EPA initiatives where equivalent development of offered by the private sector get overshadowed by “me-too” initiatives that start within the USEPA. Some attention to this trend should be studied and considered.

    Consider using unit cost purchasing for discreet services. This is an area of practice used by large corporations to control environmental spend. Corporations with portfolios of environmental sites left the mode of large and free-ranging consulting services toward unit cost style bids. One company uses a mode called “doers” and “thinkers” where the “thinkers” select the course, but have no interest in the “doing” When an agency needs services, these services could be parsed into unit cost bids where various vendors could provide their offerings.

    Outsourcing day-to-day project management. Another arena for cost efficiency has been either the licensed site remediation professional (LSRP) or the fixed price remediation. This seems to allow the out sourcing of management when the rules are clearly spelled out by the agency. There has been extensive progress at the state level in this arena, and this practice could allow cost savings to be generated. Tying to the previous point, the agency could chose to be the “thinker” or allow others through a licensing approach to become the “thinkers”. Then the focus of the agency would shift toward framing the policies and procedures by which the contractors would perform under.

    Good luck with your efforts, and I appreciate offering some quick thoughts to inform your deliberations. Bob

  7. Denyse DuBrucq of CryoRain Inc. permalink
    December 12, 2011

    There has to be a way that inventor and companies with efficient means
    to remove contamination from the soils and ground before it evaporates
    into the air and gets into the water supplies be known to the
    communities with these problems. Since the EPA funds communities and
    non-profit groups only, the technology to alleviate the problems is
    being left behind in the dust.

    My company pulls organic pollutants from the soil without disturbing
    vegetation and buildings that are in place. It is in-situ technology
    leaving the soil in place but washing the pollution out with Nitrogen
    gas to clear it from the ground and condense it into collecting
    containers to allow disposal or sale to refineries.

    It is important to demonstrate real situations whether it be from
    leaking underground storage tanks or bad manufacturing practices in the
    past or accidents or military efforts since it would eliminate one of
    the problem areas and not give question as to how it would work in a
    “real” situation. New companies do not have the advertising budgets for
    media that the major ones have so to make it possible to bring new
    technology into this field. The EPA should work with the new companies
    and technologies by making a real area available for demonstration and
    cover the cost as they would fund the communities to clear the
    pollution. If the work meets with their expectations and they want this
    repeated elsewhere, they should have a recommendation list of those
    successfully performing on their tests with video evidence of the
    performance so communities can make informed choices.

    Justifying the payment for services for the demonstration, the company
    called to clean up the situation did not create it so should not have to
    shoulder the cost of clean up – even in the demonstration.

    As a parallel example, we can fight wildfires with Nitrogen and have
    been kept out of the field of crews working the fires because I cannot
    raise $25,000 to demonstrate how we would end the wildfires. The US
    Forest Service has refused to test or provide an USDA-SBIR grant to test
    the method. For this year’s fires in Texas and Arizona with the 11
    month draught, our waterless method would have kept the fires under
    control. Over 2% of the State of Texas has burned and over 800 square
    miles of forests in Arizona, and still the US Forest Service will not
    test or allow our crews to participate in wildfire fighting. The first
    request went to their Missoula Technology Development Center in 2003 and
    we have made many requests since then. The patent has issued – an eight
    year process and is now two years old leaving us only 15 more years of
    exclusive rights. Cattle ranchers would still have water for livestock
    if the USFS would have controlled those Texas fires with Nitrogen. We
    should be paid for such the demonstration since we didn’t start the fire
    and it is not our land and vegetation and buildings that is on fire. If
    we control the fire, we should then be allowed to work the wildfire
    lines throughout the USA. This same situation should be worked by the
    EPA for remediation efforts.

  8. John Schweizer of John W. Schweizer, P.E. permalink
    December 14, 2011

    I think Chris Bunbury of Environmental Risk Managers, Inc. has hit on the key issue (see comment above). I believe that the need for limitations on liability for all parties involved in Brownfields redevelopment is the major impediment to private sector involvement in many developable sites. My thoughts on how EPA can better align its resources with private sector resources to overcome this problem are as follows:
    • Use available federal funding to provide part or all of the cost of insurance against future tightening of cleanup standards
    • Re-examine risk-based standards and how they are computed. I believe that human health and ecological risk-based standards are definitely the way to go. However, my sense is that the way risk is currently computed is often conservative in the extreme, and therefore unrealistic. Unrealistically conservative cleanup standards can drive the cost of privately funded Brownfields development out of the range of economic viability. Factor models such as are used in Bayesian networks and other complex systems might be a topic of research that EPA could consider funding, and could provide more realistic risk numbers for compliance standards. Dr. Donald Knuth of Stanford (emeritus) has expertise in this area of applied mathematics, which he describes as “a technology waiting for an application.” (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axUgEAgrSB8)
    • Provide technical assistance either through guidance documents or otherwise providing expertise, to assist permitting agencies to evaluate design features that not only meet the project design basis, but also reduce environmental risk to acceptable levels.

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