Congress BUILDs Support for Local Revitalization

Every city has them, the unusable old buildings and empty lots that remain cut off from the public sphere. They’re former factories or disposal areas where hazardous substances, pollutants, or other contaminant is hanging around for one reason or another. They’re undeveloped, contaminated, usually abandoned, and they’re a thorn in the side of any community planning initiative.

The EPA estimates that 450,000 of these “brownfields” exist in the United States, totaling more than 4,500 square miles across the United States (three times the size of Rhode Island). A group of Senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee (Lautenberg (D-NJ), Inhofe (R-OK), Udall (D-NJ), and Crapo (R-ID)) has introduced legislation to improve the way states and local governments handle these blighted spaces.

The Brownfield Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act of 2013 (or “BUILD” for short) seeks to update “Superfund” legislation of 1980 that first designated funds for contaminated space reconstruction. Since 2002, this act has provided 1.5 billion in grants. Ongoing projects include Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego and Nashville (list c/o @miamiurbanist).

The 2013 iteration of the bill lets local governments apply for funds to perform site assessments on their public properties, even if they purchased the property without doing a proper environmental study (“It doesn’t continue to punish cities that didn’t do their due diligence”)

Other highlights include allowances for 8% of grant monies to be spent on administrative costs. Preference for grants is given to small communities, Indian tribes, rural communities, or small low-income areas. Preference is also given to properties located near waterfronts or floodplains (this one seems particularly logical).

This bill is similar to traditional investments in community infrastructure (highways, roads, bridges, public transit) that help boost economies in difficult times. It seems that the bipartisan support of this bill by Senators from a wide geographical swath of the United States bodes well for its continued movement through the legislative process.

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