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Environment Matters Audio Podcast - How EPA Helps Communities with Brownfields

Size: : 4,333K
Time: 04:36

Date: June 12, 2015


Host: Picture an abandoned property, overgrown with weeds, trash strewn in and around an old chain-link fence. Maybe it’s an abandoned gas station. Maybe it was a dump. Or an old coal factory. It might be in your neighborhood. This eyesore is called a “brownfield”, and it’s an economic, environmental and social drain on towns and cities from coast to coast. Some estimates show that there are five million acres of abandoned land littering the nation. That’s roughly the same amount of land occupied by 60 of our largest cities. Hi, I’m Lena Kim, and this is Environment Matters, our series of podcasts.

Now picture this same plot of land. But instead, imagine it is now replaced with freshly cut grass and newly-planted trees, where a gleaming new condo built. Or imagine that instead of this weed-choked property, exists a vibrant recreation area where families gather. Besides improving quality of life, redeveloping brownfields can mean new business and employment opportunities, tax revenues and reduction in urban sprawl.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency works with communities to make transformations like these possible. We do this by offering five different grants designed to help neighborhoods reuse properties and revitalize neighborhoods.

Each grant has a different purpose and are awarded to a range of recipients, including state and local governments, economic development authorities, and nonprofits.

Here to tell us about EPA’s five Brownfields grants is Tom Stolle, the Brownfields Coordinator for EPA Region 3.  The Region annually manages $15 million worth of grants to communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic States.  First, let’s hear about the Brownfields Assessment Grants.

Tom: Thank you Lena.  Brownfields assessment grants valued at up to $200,000 are available for pre-cleanup activities such as:

  • Inventorying brownfields in your community – Where are they, what are they, who owns them, and what future might they hold?
  • Site investigation and environmental assessment – Is the site contaminated?  What kinds and levels of pollution must be addressed?
  • And planning for cleanup and reuse – What does the site need to make it ready for its new purpose?

Host: Now, learn about Area-wide Planning Grants and how they help revitalize communities.

Tom:  These are grants up to $200,000 to assist communities challenged by a single large site or multiple brownfield sites. The money can be used to develop area-wide planning approaches to direct assessment, cleanup, or reuse.  Activities can be community brainstorming, market research, or infrastructure design to create an implementation strategy for area-wide revitalization.  
Funding is directed to specific areas such as a neighborhood, downtown district, local commercial corridor, or city block.

Host: Next is the Revolving Loan Fund Grant.

Tom: If a community has lots of brownfield sites, up to $1 million can be used to capitalize a revolving loan fund for cleanups. Private and public developers can apply for low or zero interest loans to finance cleanup activities.  The repaid loans can then fund additional cleanups.  Hence, the use of the words “revolving loan fund.” A portion of the loan fund can also be used to provide subgrants to pay for cleanups on publicly-owned or nonprofit-owned properties. But unlike loans, subgrants do not require repayment.

Host: Tell us about the Direct Clean-up Grant.

Tom: These are grants up to $200,000 to pay for site-specific cleanup on publicly-owned or nonprofit-owned properties. But an applicant must contribute a 20 percent cost share and own the property.

Host: The fifth and final grant, called the Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Grant. Tell us more.

Tom: With these grants, nonprofit and other organizations such as community colleges or job training centers can apply for up to $200,000 to recruit and train predominantly low-income and minority, unemployed and under-employed residents so they can secure full-time employment.

Host: What kind of training is there? 
Tom: Training would be in environmental fields such as hazardous and solid waste management, assessment and cleanup activities, chemical safety, emergency response, integrated pest management, and waste and storm water management.

Host: If you have brownfields where you live, and want to learn how EPA works with communities to revitalize contaminated lands, visit the EPA Brownfields website

Thanks for joining us on Environment Matters, our series of environmental podcasts.