A brownfield is an abandoned piece of land or commercial facility that is difficult to redevelop because it has real or potential environmental contamination. Many different businesses leave behind contaminated sites including railroads, gas stations, oil refineries, dry cleaners, liquid chemical storage facilities and steel and heavy manufacturing plants.
In the inner city abandoned industrial properties are common because industries move to suburban or rural sites where taxes are cheaper. The sites become difficult to sell because potential buyers are worried about the potential liability for cleanup costs and environmental contamination. This leads the owners to abandon the properties, which decreases the tax base in the area and the building becomes a source of blight in the surrounding community.
There are many advantages to redeveloping these properties. They increase the tax base in their community, potentially create new jobs, utilize existing infrastructure and remove blight. The removal of contaminants in the area also helps protect human health and the environment.
One common problem with brownfields redevelopments is the concern investors have over legal liability. The cost of cleaning up contaminated sites can scare away many potential developers and investors. In order to combat these liability risks, laws have been implemented at the state and federal level to minimize the risk to investors.
Two of the most influential laws created to help push the redevelopment of these properties would include the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act(CERCLA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). These laws are meant to push developers and investors to choose brownfields properties for their projects.
CERCLA is also known as a superfund. It establishes who is responsible for footing the bill for the cleanup of contaminated sites. This law also establishes a trust fund that can be used to pay for the remediation of these contaminated sites. CERCLA was enacted by congress in 1980 and it gave the EPA the right to start investigations and cleanup these sites. It also gave them the right to take action against the parties responsible for leaving the sites contaminated.
RCRA was enacted by congress in 1976 it was a program that managed the generation, transportation, storage, disposal and treatment if hazardous waste. The law affects the brownfield redevelopment in three ways. It deals with petroleum based products and underground storage tanks. It regulates the cleanup activities at active hazardous waste treatment storage and disposal facilities. Plus, it restricts the handling and disposal of wastes produced during the remediation of a site.