Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on January 20, 2022Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on May 18, 2022
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 22, 2022
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports continued federal financial aid to facilitate the redevelopment of brownfields sites, which are defined as properties where expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. ASCE encourages full funding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Program, state sponsored brownfields programs, or other programs that encourage brownfields redevelopment.
Furthermore, ASCE supports a modification to EPA regulation 40 CFR 312.10 to restrict the definition of an "Environmental Professional" to individuals with relevant experience holding a current: 1) Professional Engineer's license; or 2) Professional Geologist's license; or 3) appropriate certifications.
Brownfields were identified in the 1990s as one of the most critical problems facing cities, pushing down property values and tax revenues. The EPA estimates there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the United States. Developers may avoid brownfields due to issues related to historic site use and known or unknown site contamination, furthering the reduced property value of adjacent parcels and delaying site cleanup.
In 2002, the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act (Act) was passed, which amended the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability (CERCLA) Act to establish the EPA Brownfields Program, clarified liability protections, expanded funding for brownfields assessment and cleanup, and increased support for state and tribal programs. The Act provided liability protections for innocent property owners, prospective purchasers, and contiguous property owners through the All-Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) process. The Act also authorized the Brownfields Revitalization Program at $200 million and the State Response Program at $50 million for each year 2002 to 2006. Congress partially funded these programs each fiscal year during the authorized term and continued funding them after expiration. As part of the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act of 2018 (the BUILD Act), Congress reauthorized both programs at the same levels for fiscal years 2019 to 2023, increased individual project grant caps, and made other modifications.
EPA's role on the Standards and Practices for AAI set the qualifications for the Environmental Professional who is authorized to perform the AAI process at brownfields sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Currently an individual can be qualified as an Environmental Professional with 10 years of relevant experience, with no associated education requirements. This would allow technicians with no formal education beyond the high school level to perform key engineering duties at hazardous waste facilities. This regulation places human health and the environment at risk by allowing unlicensed personnel to practice engineering at sites and facilities contaminated by hazardous substances. These functions include determinations of the nature of hazardous waste and other toxic materials on the site, the extent of the pollution, the potential risk to public health, site hydrology, as well as the development of potential engineering or environmentally sound solutions to the site's contamination.
Revitalizing brownfields reduces the demand for undeveloped land, cleans the environment, reduces urban sprawl, and increases property values. Land use plans should take advantage of all underutilized urban land and maximize use of parcels to their greatest extent.
A targeted brownfields restoration program should take into account site-specific environmental exposure factors and risks based on a reasonable assessment of the future use of the property by competent licensed professional engineers, or licensed professional geologist or persons with appropriate certifications.
ASCE Policy Statement 485
First Approved in 2001