How-To ‘Climate Smart’ Brownfield Manual Incorporates Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies to Counter Climate Change
The Climate Smart Brownfield Manual is another top notch resource prepared by the experts at EPA.
While perceptions of brownfields, blighted land and vacant greyfield property as liabilities persist, these oddlots and marginal lands are a resource like any other real property. A brownfield's underutilization is a function of bad economy, bad planning or bad timing. When idle, the latent utility of brownfield land isn’t destroyed, it’s simply banked.
We can tap the stored potential of the brownfield bank to combat climate change. And we may need all the stored value we can get to rise to the greatest challenge to the natural and built environments of our time. Each and every brownfield redevelopment presents the opportunity to reduce blight and improve the quality of life for vulnerable populations while simultaneously mitigating the impacts of climate change and building up local resilience. In places where available land is scarce, brownfields represents some of the only real estate available to deploy in the local adaptation to climate change.
First, brownfields can be used as a land-saving strategy that spares undeveloped greenfield land—often agricultural land, open space or habitat—from the impact of intense development. EPA estimates that every acre of brownfield land redeveloped saves 4.5 acres of greenfield from development. his leaves the carbon stored in these areas in place and their other ecosystem services functions undisturbed.
And brownfields also present the opportunity to reconstruct a more efficient and sustainable built environment, because many brownfields are located in densely developed areas with much greater location efficiency. This results in a 32%-57% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) when brownfields are redeveloped compared to new development on greenfield sites. Lower VMT leads to a reduction in air pollution emissions and reduced congestion. Brownfield redevelopment also improves water quality by reducing stormwater runoff 47% to 62% compared to greenfield site development—giving modern professionals a chance to incorporate advanced techniques and technologies to repair some of the damage caused by mistakes made in legacy developments, or its natural decay.
The new Climate Smart Brownfield Manual from U.S. EPA addresses how communities can incorporate climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies into their brownfield revitalization projects. It also explains in plain detail why mitigation and adaptation matter so much to communities beset by brownfields.
Vulnerable populations, like children, the elderly, low-income, minority and tribal communities, tend to live close to brownfields and other blighted properties. And while all populations will be affected by climate change, vulnerable populations will also be disproportionately affected by climate change as it continues to progress and its effects raise the stress and difficulty to live and work.
Children and the elderly are among the most sensitive to changes in water and air quality, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics This study also found found that heat and cold-related deaths in the U.S. are highest among non-Hispanic black populations and low-income populations making less than $42,400 annually.
Therefore, as air and water quality degrade with climate change, these populations will be most susceptible to environmental impacts on their health. Respiratory and waterborne illness, nutritional stress, malnutrition and all manner of other diseases pose dangerous threats to the young, old and every individual person in each vulnerable population in between.
Children, the elderly, low-income, as well as women and minorities are also economically disadvantaged. They do not always have the physical resources to adapt to changing conditions, particularly when they come too quickly—or unexpectedly. The populations are also at higher risk for distress and other adverse mental health consequences from the impacts of climate change, subsequently reducing their ability to adequately cope with and respond to adverse impacts, such as the environmental and economic consequences of climate change.
Many populations, groups and individuals are also geographically constrained. They lack the resources, ability or are otherwise unable to move. Many of our most sensitive populations are infirmed, institutionalized or under care. Also Native American communities, for example, are closely tied to reservation boundaries that restrict their ability to relocate to avoid climate change impacts, making them particularly vulnerable. In moments of environmental crisis, means of escape can become bottlebecked or cut-off as roads and bridges become impassable—as the catastrophic fires in the Smokey Mountains proved with deadly consequence.
The Climate Smart Brownfield Manual was created to help head off the impacts with parcel-level guidance that can make a difference one project at a time. These strategies and tactics will be needed because, as the Manual notes, “climate and non-climate stressors for these vulnerable populations are expected to become more evident as the impacts of climate change interact with existing stressors as well as socioeconomic and demographic factors.”
As the effects of climate change increasingly spillover and compound other problems, incorporating mitigation and adaptation strategies into land use planning to promote resiliency can ameliorate conditions at the local level. This is particularly important for small or rural communities that may be physically isolated and unable to easily access emergency supplies, resources and infrastructure. It is important, however, for each community to identify, target and build resilience in ways most needed to it—and seize the benefits and opportunities offered by the local geography, environment, and ecology for a better built-environment and economy that will return on investment for generations to come.
The Climate Smart Brownfield manual provides guidance and best practices for incorporating climate change mitigation and adaptation measures and practices into brownfield assessment, cleanup and redevelopment projects. In this way, communities can use their brownfields as a resource and means to avoid future damages from climate-related events and ensure more reliable and resilient community revitalization projects.
The EPA’s manual details how brownfield assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment can be part of climate change resilience solutions and strategies and how communities can ensure that their brownfield projects are climate resilient. Considering climate change in a brownfield revitalization project could include, for example, identifying factors such as sea-level rise that may affect long-term suitability of the site; considering how factors, such as increasing temperature, may alter the toxicity of site contaminants; or determining which flora and fauna can be supported or managed at the site in the future.
One of the biggest problems is water. Water resources will be affected differently in different regions as the climate continues to change. Some regions may experience increased drought, while others may experience more frequent heavy precipitation—sometimes unpredictable. Shifts in precipitation rates could reduce water availability when it is most needed and produce an abundance of water when it is needed least. This will strain farmers, drinking supplies, stormwater management systems, dykes and levees. As water systems become more vulnerable and fragile, the threat from contamination and pollution becomes greater.
Brownfields can be useful in numerous ways to meet these many challenges. As the Manual explains:
To help navigate the climate change resiliency options that can be considered at each step in this process, the Manual is organized into five chapters:
Chapter 1: Planning for a Resilient Brownfield Revitalization.
Chapter 2: Assessing Brownfields and the Surrounding Area with a Changing Climate in Mind.
Chapter 3: Reducing Climate Impacts through Greener Deconstruction.
Chapter 4: Implementing Greener Cleanups.
Case studies and profiles of climate adaptation and mitigation methods are included in text boxes throughout the manual to help grantees, communities, and government officials envision practical solutions and strategies possible for their community. Appendix A (below) lists examples of adaptation and mitigation strategies for each stage of a brownfield project. Appendix B provides resources for area-wide planning components, and Appendix C contains additional “snapshots” of climate adaptation and mitigation at sites around the country.
View and/or download other recently published EPA resources below: