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Policy Statement 485 - Revitalization of Brownfields

 

Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on February 12, 2019
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on April 28, 2019
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 13, 2019

Policy

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.

Additionally, EPA regulation 40 CFR 312.10 permits an individual with 10 years' relevant experience - but with no other education or certification - to qualify as an "environmental professional" and therefore authorized to perform the All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) process at brownfields sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). ASCE supports a modification of this regulation 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. 

Issue

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 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 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.  

In addition, EPA's current role on the Standards and Practices for All Appropriate Inquiries set the qualifications for the Environmental Professional who is authorized to perform the AAI. Under the current rule, an individual can be qualified as an Environmental Professional with only 10 years relevant experience. This EPA regulation allows 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 untrained, unlicensed personnel to practice engineering at facilities contaminated by hazardous substances. The regulations permit unqualified technicians to carry out functions that are intrinsically engineering in nature. 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, and potential engineering or environmentally sound solutions to the site's contamination. 

Rationale

Revitalizing brownfields reduces the demand for undeveloped land, cleans the environment, preserves greenspace, 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. Consideration for changes in use should be made at the lowest appropriate level of government. 

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

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