Big Changes Proposed in the Bi-Partisan BUILD Act Now Before Congress
“BUILD Act” leaves Committee for Congressional Debate and Vote
On May 18, the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act of 2015, S. 1479 (the “BUILD Act”), which was introduced to Committee last June by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), was referred for general consideration and a vote by the U.S. Congress. The BUILD Act is the first reauthorization of the EPA Brownfields grant program in many years, making that program once again a regular part of the federal budget. The EPA Brownfields program has received ad hoc but uncertain funding since 2006, and the program has not grown or changed to meet the expanding needs of the brownfield community.
In addition to ensuring long-range funding, the BUILD Act also would greatly enhance the Brownfields grant program. Various measures in the bill increase eligibility for grants and liability protections for brownfield owners; increase the dollar amounts of those grants; ensure disadvantaged communities receive adequate technical assistance; provide focused attention and funding for certain important categories of brownfields; and enhance the flexibility of how grant money can be used by the recipients.
Specific key provisions of the BUILD Act include:
Making private 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations and 45D(c)(1) qualified community development entities eligible for brownfields grants.
Creating “multipurpose brownfields grants” that can be applied for any combination of brownfields inventory, characterization, assessment, planning or remediation activities. Under the current program, grants are issued for one purpose only, meaning applicants must apply for multiple grants to complete various stages of brownfields redevelopment.
Increasing the amounts available for individual grants. For example, multipurpose grants would top out at $950,000. Remediation grants would be capped at $500,000, a 150% increase from the current $200,000 limit; and EPA would have the discretion to increase this amount to as much as $650,000 per site, where circumstances warrant.
Providing liability protections for governmental entities that acquired brownfields prior to 2002, when Congress instituted the “bona fide prospective purchaser” liability shield. Municipalities with property acquired before that shield was available have frequently been afraid to publicize or undertake action on their pre-2002 brownfield acquisitions, fearing potential Superfund lawsuits that could be avoided under this provision of the BUILD Act.
Allowing grant recipients to apply part of their grant funds to internal administrative costs (up to 8% of the grant amount), which currently is disallowed.
Earmarking technical assistance grant money for economically disadvantaged and small communities (15,000 or fewer residents) of up to $7,500 per community. (This grant is designed to supplement the existing Section 128(a) technical assistance program. To help ensure the most at-need communities receive the new grants, EPA will be limited to a total of $600,000/year in grants to communities already receiving Section 128(a) assistance.)
Adding waterfront brownfield sites as a specific category of potential grant recipient that EPA must give special consideration to. This category includes sites located on a body of water or in a federally designated floodplain. (BL has heard concerns from several leading voices that creating new categories, such as for waterfront sites (or “bluefields” as tagged in BL’s Taxonomy), will take away from the pure competition of the program as it is today. So, a less worthy waterfront project might be funded over a non-waterfront brownfield project in the future simply because of the categorization instead of on merit. This, of course, is a particular concern when funding levels are so low that brownfield grant applicants with perfect scores still cannot manage to win badly needed funds in the competition, which the BUILD Act does take a step towards ameliorating by investing more in the program that leverages nearly $18 for every $1 spent.)
Also adding clean energy projects or “Brightfields” as another specific category of site to receive special consideration and earmarked grant funding. This includes brownfields on which solar panels or other renewable energy sources would be placed as part of their redevelopment plan. Communities housing these sites would be eligible for a special $500,000 grant they could apply toward the inventory, characterization, assessment, planning, feasibility analysis, design or remediation activities necessary to locate clean energy on their brownfields. (And you won’t need any funds to seek these services by listing your property, project or RFP in BL’s Brightfields Portfolio, an open feature to connect your brightfield opportunity to solar developers and vendors who specialize in brownfields.)
Helping to ensure adequate funding of the existing Section 128(a) technical assistance program by earmarking $2,000,000/year for that purpose as “targeted funding.”
The BUILD Act would extend reauthorization with the enhancements described above through 2018. BL will continue following the progress of the bill as it proceeds through the lawmaking process. We are excited to see this action by Congress, especially at this moment in politics. It reflects the growing importance of brownfield redevelopment to the country’s economy, and the universal recognition of the importance to work together to repair the real estate legacies of the past in order to maximize the land use potential of the future.
The EPA Brownfields Grant program will continue to be a crucial catalyst in the transition to a new economy, and perhaps the finest example of public-private partnership in action.
Read our previous coverage of the brownfield bill:
Watch lead sponsor and Republican Senator from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe, a longtime supporter of the EPA Brownfields Grant Program, quip in 2013 that "it is very rare that I have the opportunity to speak positively about any program that comes out of the EPA, but..."