Protecting the Federal Brownfields Program in Uncertain Times


The following blog post is based on a Webinar entitled Protecting the Federal Brownfields Program in Uncertain Times, brought to you by the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR) and the National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals (NALGEP). The webinar was sponsored by Brownfield Listings, the premier online marketplace and project platform to list real estate to be remediated, redeveloped, revitalized, or reimagined.

There has always been strong bipartisan support for brownfields law and funding. The EPA program produces economic results- leverages 8,000 jobs and $1.5 billion dollars in redevelopment funding per year, and it increases local tax revenues up to $97 million annually. The program produces environmental results- has assessed 26,405 properties, cleaned up 1,505 properties, and made ready for reuse 5,693 properties, to date. Every EPA dollar leverages $18 in revitalization investment.

Under the current Administration’s regulatory environment, brownfields programs face a growing threat. However, there is growing bipartisan support for reauthorization. The President is focused on jobs, tax reform, economic development, and infrastructure. Infrastructure and tax reform legislation in particular present new opportunities for brownfields despite the hostile climate precipitated by the current administration. Pruitt has also expressed support for brownfields.  However, under the President’s current budget, the following programs have been slated for elimination: the HUD CDBG (Community Development Block Grant Program), the EDA (Economic Development Administration), funding for regional economic commissions (e.g., Appalachia Regional Commission), the USDA Rural Water and Sewer Infrastructure program, and EPA Brownfields funds are cut by 13%.

Congress holds the purse strings so the “skinny” budget proposed by the President in March, will come under scrutiny when Appropriations Subcommittees accept funding requests from Members of Congress in April. The President is to propose a detailed budget in early May, Appropriations Subcommittees will consider legislation in May, June, and July, and final legislation will come in the fall.

EPA Brownfields funding supports planning, assessments, cleanup, job training, technical assistance, and state programs. The administration is looking to cut EPA Brownfields funding by 13%, and brownfield grants would be cut from $80 million to $75 million. Grants to the states would be cut by 30% from $47.5 million to $33.4 million. The President’s budget eliminates HUD CDBG funding, and these block grants are flexible funds that have supported the redevelopment of thousands of brownfields across the country. The program has been funded at around $3 billion in recent years, but the Trump administration has proposed eliminating the program because it “is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.” Eliminated CDBG funds are instead earmarked to provide funding to build the southern border wall.

EDA Public Works and Infrastructure funding has supported hundreds of brownfield projects and the EDA Manufacturing Communities Partnership has linked brownfields cleanup with the revitalization of manufacturing. The EDA has supported many small and rural communities and has been funded at $250 million in recent years. The President has proposed the elimination of the EDA. The President’s budget also eliminates funding for regional economic development commissions that support local regional economic development, which includes brownfields. This includes the elimination of the Appalachia Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority, the Denali Commission, and the Northern Border Regional Commission. The USDA provides economic development and infrastructure funding to support small and rural communities and USDA funds have supported hundreds of brownfield redevelopment projects in small rural communities. The President’s budget eliminates USDA grants and loans for water and sewer infrastructure on brownfields.

The CCLR/NALGEP recommended funding levels include keeping EPA Brownfields at $250 million (authorized level), keeping the HUD CDBG funded to at least $3.3 billion (current level), keeping the EDA funded to at least $250 million (current level), and keeping the USDA Rural Development programs funded to at least $2.8 billion (current level).  The CCLR/NALGEP urges you to send letters to Members of Congress to request the Appropriations Subcommittees to include funding levels for brownfields and to follow up with congressional offices to make sure they support your requests. Letters are provided from the CCLR/NALGEP for this purpose.

Contact McAlister GeoScience and the CCLR/NALGEP for more information and if you are interested in getting involved with the development, redevelopment, or some other form of role with Brownfields, please contact us to get started.

California Redevelopment Agencies

Earlier this week, the Governor signed two trailer bills, ABX1 26 and ABX1 27 that essentially eliminated the State of California’s various redevelopment agencies (RDAs). The RDAs are are to be shut down permanently on October 1, 2011 unless the various government agencies that established the RDAs agree to reduced funding. This is expected to be challenged in court by the California Redevelopment Association and the League of California Cities on the grounds that these two trailer bills violate the State Constitution and Proposition 22.

My personal opinion, aside from the fact that I do some work that is paid out of RDAs, is that the redevelopment agencies have done a tremendous amount of good for the various cities and local agencies that utilize them throughout the state. Numerous blighted properties have been taken over, cleaned up, and returned to beneficial use. These uses include community benefits such as parks and public spaces, and as tax revenue generating commercial properties. This is still my opinion, but this is a major mistake and will lead to unchecked blight in neighborhoods and will slow the economic recovery even further.

Brownfield Funds Available

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that $1.4 million is being awarded for cleanup efforts at contaminated California sites known as brownfields. Both the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and City of Sacramento were chosen to receive the grant funds. A brownfield is a parcel of land where hazardous substances or pollutants are a barrier to its successful redevelopment or reuse.

The DTSC will receive $1 million of the grant and the City of Sacramento will receive $400,000 for redevelopment of blighted commercial property within the city.

Closure Achieved

It was an exiting day here in the office on July 13th. We received a gift from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), a closure letter for one of our client’s sites located in Reseda. I would say that the Los Angeles RWQCB was very generous, but as my 5th grade teacher used to tell me, “You get the grade you deserve”.

We have been performing work at this former dry cleaner for the past couple of years and we did soil gas investigations, soil investigations, we installed groundwater wells, sampled groundwater, and operated a soil vapor extraction (SVE) system. It is a relatively straight-forward site and a straight-forward approach to remediation of a dry cleaner, but the regulatory agency was a bit slow with the review of our submittals due to budget cuts and furlough days.

Types of Sites – Dry Cleaners

This post will continue a post series that I started toward the beginning of this blog and including:

Regulatory FAQ
Regulatory FAQ II
Definition of Terms
Industrial Facility

Those posts described the basic steps associated with the work I do at various types of sites. This post will describe my involvement in the standard dry cleaner site located in a standard shopping center.  Let’s say that there is a shopping center that has multiple units and one of them is a dry cleaner.  This tenant has been in operation as a dry cleaner since the center was built some 20-30 years ago.  The dry cleaning process, as I have discussed in my previous post about green dry cleaning, uses tetrachloroethelene (PCE).  From an environmental standpoint, this chemical can be a hassle to purchase, manage, dispose of, and generally use.  Due to the difficulties associated with disposal of PCE, many operators of dry cleaning facilities historically disposed of the chemical in the sewer by either dumping it in a floor drain, sink, or the toilet.  This practice was generally conducted up until the mid-1970s when environmental regulations became more mainstream.  Releases can also occur beneath the dry cleaning machine itself and in the area where the chemical is stored.

Investigating the potential for releases at these types of sites is generally performed in a few phases starting with a soil vapor survey in the area along the sewer line followed by soil samples in impacted areas identified during the soil vapor survey.  The final phase of investigation generally consists of groundwater samples in impacted areas identified during the soil sampling.

Remediation of a dry cleaner site generally involves soil vapor extraction (SVE) in the area of impacts.  The SVE methods can range from carbon adsorption to chemical oxidation (Generally, carbon is sufficient).  Since the impacted areas are commonly inside the building, excavation using small drill rigs and Bobcat-type excavators is necessary.  There are a number of challenges associated with the process, but it is rather common and these types of sites can be usually be remediated within a few years.

The City of Long Beach and the Los Cerritos Wetlands

As a resident of the City of Long Beach, I have been following the recent developments of the land swap between the City of Long Beach and Tom Dean. The proposed deal is some city owned land on the West Side of the city for the Los Cerritos Wetlands on the East Side of the city. At first blush, this sounds like a pretty good deal where the owner of the wetlands gets some land he could develop and the city gets some open space that they can preserve for their citizens, but the devil is always in the details.

Long Beach Press-Telegram Article

It seems there is soil impacted with Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) at the wetland site that is confusing the issue, along with other potential roadblocks. This is not entirely surprising considering that there are electrical transformers on the wetlands property powering the oil well pumps and those transformers have likely been there long before the 1979 PCB ban.

Although no longer commercially produced in the United States, PCBs may be present in products and materials produced before 1979. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the products that may contain PCBs include Transformers and capacitors, voltage regulators, high voltage switches, electromagnets, hydraulic oil, fluorescent light ballasts, thermal insulation, oil-based paint, and some construction mastic materials.

The EPA is conducting a sampling program and will be performing a risk assessment for the wetlands that will likely include PCBs and other oil-field related compounds. This is not an uncommon process, the part that I do find uncommon is that the City of Long Beach is having this investigation performed by the EPA and that it is happening so late in the game. The EPA does good work and has some very good scientists and engineers at their disposal, but they are a governmental agency and move at the pace that you would expect a governmental agency to move. A private consulting firm would be able to conduct the sampling and risk assessment that the EPA is doing in far less time. This timing is becoming a factor as the property owner has only given the City of Long Beach until the end of the calendar year (December 31st) to make a decision, and I can almost guarantee that the EPA will not have their investigation completed at that time, let alone the reporting on the investigation or the risk assessment.

I wish the best of luck to the City of Long Beach and the property owner but this deal sounds like it is beginning to sour. As a citizen of the City of Long Beach, I am hoping I can assist the city in this manner but so far they haven’t taken me up on my offer. Strange, seeing as how they are turning down free consulting but that is their prerogative.

Types of Sites – Industrial Facility

For this post, I thought I would continue on a subject that I began a couple of years ago on this blog:

Regulatory FAQ
?????????Regulatory FAQ II
Definition of Terms

Those posts described the basic steps associated with investigation of your standard corner retail gas station. For this post, let’s assume that you own an industrial facility of some sort. Either you owned the property and leased it to a widget manufacturer or you are the widget manufacturer and you own the property were you do your work. For whatever reason, the decision has been made to close the widget factory and sell the property. To do so, you will have to decommission all the various parts of the facility. A vital step in this process is what is called the, “Hazardous Materials Inventory”. This process will identify everything from mercury switches in thermostats and PCBs in light ballasts to large storage tanks and make recommendations for the appropriate method(s) for their decommissioning.

Let’s just say that a portion of this facility was used as a steam cleaning area with floor drains that conveyed the wash-down water into the sanitary sewer. Before the wash-down water went into the sanitary sewer, it flowed through a three-stage clarifier to allow the solids to settle out. All of this is a very common feature in industrial facilities. The Hazardous Materials Inventory identified the use of chlorinated solvents, specifically TCE, during the 1970s in various parts of the property including the steam cleaning area. Based on these findings, the recommendations are to advance soil borings in the area of the steam cleaning area, the floor drains, and the three-stage clarifier. The data collected from this investigation will allow us to evaluate how much soil (if any) around of the steam cleaning area is impacted with TCE and / or anything that was being washed off the widgets that were being steam cleaned.

Can’t wait to hear the next part? What do we do? How much do we have to dig out? How much will it cost? How long will it take to do all the work? Well, it takes a couple weeks to get data back from the lab and write the report. Check back next month!