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EPA Awards Larger Brownfield Grants to Smaller Communities

June 5, 2019, 6:57 PM

The size of the average EPA grant to address a contaminated or abandoned property has almost doubled, according to new agency data.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and the agency’s regional administrators announced the agency’s annual round of brownfield grants June 5.

The upper limit for cleanup grants the EPA can award to individual sites increased from $200,000 to $500,000 as a result of the 2018 omnibus spending bill (H.R.1625). Grant applicants had the option to ask the agency for a waiver, raising the limit to $650,000 per site.

Reusing or redeveloping properties known as brownfields is often complicated by contamination from past use. The sites may or may not be contaminated, and abandoned sites may also be considered brownfields.

About $65 million went to almost 150 recipients, with an average grant amount of about $425,000. The majority of recipients are in non-urban communities, according to the EPA.

“We are targeting these funds to areas that need them the most,” Wheeler said in a press release.

“We did not just decide we’re not giving to the large cities any more. This was all done by career staff and by looking at each grant application [on] a competitive basis,” Wheeler said at the National Press Club in Washington on June 3.

Some of the sites that received grants are in opportunity zones, formally recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as economically distressed areas where tax incentives are offered for long-term investments. The opportunity zone program was created under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

The average dollar amount for individual EPA grants for brownfield cleanup or assessment, announced from fiscal years 2014 through 2018, had been about $235,700. On average, the EPA awarded about 147 entities with grants each year during that time period, according to a Bloomberg Environment analysis of EPA data.

Dubuque, Iowa, was among the recipients of EPA’s newest type of brownfield grant: one that can be applied to multiple functions, including site assessment, planning, and cleanup at one or more sites. Multi-purpose grants are capped at $1 million each, but no grant recipient received the maximum amount.

The agency awarded about $57 million in brownfield cleanup and assessment grants in fiscal 2017. In fiscal 2018, the agency awarded $54.3 million in site assessment, revolving loan fund, and cleanup grants to 221 applicants in 144 communities.

Grants in fiscal year 2018 included $200,000 for site assessment in Portland, Maine; $170,000 for cleanup at a former community hospital in Stillwater County, Mont.; and $800,000 for a revolving loan fund in Wyoming.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Pamela Atkins at patkins@bloomberglaw.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com