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Key win for counties as FY 2018 Omnibus reauthorizes and reforms EPA's Brownfields program

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On March 23, President Trump signed a Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 omnibus spending package totaling $1.3 trillion in domestic and military spending. The bill contained several significant victories for county governments, detailed in NACo’s comprehensive analysis of the spending package and policy riders attached to the legislation.

Additional highlights of the omnibus package included a reauthorization of, as well as reforms to, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields program.

Brownfields sites are abandoned or under-utilized industrial and commercial properties, which are contaminated (or perceived to be contaminated) due to past practices. EPA’s Brownfields program, originally authorized in 2002 through the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act, provides technical assistance and grants for local communities, including counties, to undertake brownfields redevelopment projects at old manufacturing and industrial facilities, abandoned mills and mines and areas with leaking underground storage tanks.

The FY 2018 omnibus appropriations package provided $80 million for EPA’s Brownfields project grant program, which is level funding with FY 2017.

In addition to providing $80 million for the program through FY 2018, the omnibus included a provision, supported by NACo, to reauthorize EPA’s Brownfields program at a level of $200 million from FY 2019 through FY 2023. The program expired in 2006, but had been funded by Congress annually since its expiration due to its bipartisan popularity.

The omnibus also included policy riders geared toward improving the EPA Brownfields program to help more sites undergo cleanup activities, such as:

  • Expanding liability protections for voluntarily and involuntarily acquired brownfields sites for state and local governments;
     
  • Creating multipurpose brownfields grants up to $1 million allowing communities to undertake multiple site brownfield projects under the same grant;
     
  • Increasing funding for brownfields remediation clean up grants from $200,000 to $500,000 per grant and allowing EPA to waive that limit up to $650,000 based on need;
     
  • Classifying abandoned petroleum sites as brownfields if there is no viable responsible party, and if the EPA and the state determine the entity assessing and remediating the site is not liable to clean up the site. Close to half of brownfields are contaminated by leaking underground storage tanks like those found at unused gasoline stations;
     
  • Increasing grant eligibility for non-profits and for publicly-owned brownfields sites acquired prior to January 11, 2002;
     
  • Capping administrative costs at five percent, while stipulating that administrative costs do not include investigation and identification, design of response plan or monitoring activities; and
     
  • Providing small community technical assistance grants of $20,000 to states for communities with populations under 15,000 or in disadvantaged areas where the annual median household income is less than 80 percent of the state-wide annual median.

NACo has long supported reauthorization of EPA’s Brownfields program and stands ready to work with Congress and the administration to ensure counties have the resources necessary to successfully redevelop brownfields sites across the country.

Congressional appropriators are already working on FY 2019 spending levels, which must be set and passed before the current fiscal year ends on September 30, 2018. In February, President Trump released his FY 2019 budget request, which outlined the administration’s federal spending priorities for the next fiscal year. The president requested $62 million for the EPA’s Brownfields program for FY 2019, a $18 million cut from the $80 million appropriated in FY 2017, though Congress will ultimately determine the final spending level for the program in FY 2019.  

NACo will continue working with congressional appropriators to ensure county priorities are supported in any FY 2019 spending package.

Click here to read NACo’s full analysis of the omnibus package.

Click here to read NACo’s analysis on the president’s FY 2019 Budget Request.

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