Trump Proposes New Funding Options for Superfund, Brownfields

By Sylvia Carignan

President Donald Trump’s sweeping infrastructure plan proposes to rewrite long-standing funding options for cleaning up brownfields and superfund sites.

The plan, released Feb. 12, seeks new ways to provide federal funding for contaminated site cleanup, potentially speeding progress toward redeveloping those sites. At the same time, the president’s budget plan would slash the traditional funding route for brownfields.

The proposed infrastructure reforms would create new loan and grant programs but also require legislative action.

“If the goal is redevelopment, then some new programs like this have to come into existence, because that’s not been the focus until now,” Linda R, Shaw, partner at Knauf Shaw LLP in Rochester, N.Y., told Bloomberg Environment.

The EPA’s Brownfields Program provides communities with technical assistance and grants to assess, clean up, and promote redevelopment of sites that are or might be contaminated.

Brownfields by the Numbers

In fiscal year 2017, the EPA’s Brownfields Program received about $25 million from Congress. Trump’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget, released Feb. 12, would cut the program’s budget to $16 million.

The budget request would maintain superfund funding at about $1.1 billion for fiscal 2019.

Under Trump’s infrastructure proposal, superfund and brownfield sites would gain access to financing under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) lending program to address contamination to water resources.

The proposal also expands the types of projects eligible for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program grant funding, allowing superfund sites or parts of those sites access to that money.

The EPA also expects to receive about $10 billion in a new $50 billion Rural Infrastructure Program Trump is proposing. That program would provide grants for brownfield sites.

John O’Grady, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, which represents EPA employees, is unsure the president’s infrastructure reform would help the superfund and brownfield programs.

“There’s no magic bullet here,” O’Grady told Bloomberg Environment. “It’s kind of like smoke and mirrors.”

New Money

Dan French, chief executive officer of Brownfield Listings, said new sources of federal funding will boost developers’ demand for brownfields.

“Additional public capital is particularly helpful because of the way the brownfield market is bottlenecked, wherein deals don’t initiate because there’s too much uncertainty or risk for anyone in the private sector to even study the project in the first place,” he told Bloomberg Environment.

Though Republicans and Democrats generally agree that redeveloping brownfields creates economic benefits, French said federal funding for those sites has been “a drop in the bucket.”

“The scale of the funding just doesn’t match the need,” he said.

A bill with bipartisan support, written to reauthorize the EPA’s brownfields grant program, requests $200 million for the program annually. The bill passed the House in December. A Senate vote hasn't yet been scheduled.

Superfund v. Brownfields

Superfund sites aren’t in the same league as brownfields, Shaw said, and the two have separate funding mechanisms for a reason.

“The reason superfund sites are typically excluded…is there’s a presumption that there’s a responsible party out there and you don’t want to let them off the hook,” she said.

But, French said, investment is essential for both types of sites.

“Bigger support [for] brownfield and superfund redevelopment is one of the ways we can invest our way out of our national debt and deficit problems,” he said.

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