October, 1999

Overview | Community Involvement | Community Assistance | Measures of Success | Community Development | Public Health & Quality of Life | Community-Based Projects | Financial & Economic Planning | Emerging Brownfields | Needs & Concerns | National Voice


The following document is the joint product of the National Brownfields Environmental Justice/ Community Caucus:

The Environmental Justice/Community Caucus consists of people who live, work, study, and play at or near Brownfields properties.

We came together at the Brownfields '97 and Brownfields '98 conferences, and we have been working over the past year to develop the following set of recommendations for improving Brownfields projects.

Though U.S. EPA has taken national leadership in the promotion of the reuse of contaminated properties, the Brownfields "movement" is much broader. U.S. EPA should continue to play a key role in helping states and municipalities identify the best brownfields practices and to provide oversight where levels of government fail to promote the community's interest. Development and usually cleanup are financed and carried out by the private sector, state and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations. These recommendations are therefore targeted at all Brownfields stakeholders, not just the Environmental Protection Agency.

Brownfields properties tend to be concentrated in older urban areas inhabited by peoples of color or low-income people of all ethnic backgrounds. These recommendations primarily address concerns raised by people from urban brownfields communities. It is our hope that territorial, tribal, and rural representatives will be engaged in this process and add their concerns to the list. Brownfields revitalization is an environmental justice issue, and all stakeholders should work to overcome the barriers to public involvement normally found in communities of color as well as to address the concentration of environmental problems typically present in such communities. All Brownfields stakeholders should aggressively pursue strategies that deliver equity to those who are most affected by brownfields properties.

The generic approach to Brownfields redevelopment is not the silver bullet solution for properties suspected or known to be contaminated. Some situations require more stringent cleanup requirements that would make revitalization economically unfeasible. Communities should have the option of not developing a property if they believe that development will lead to unacceptable environmental exposures.

1. Community Involvement

We recommend that communities be viewed as assets-partners in, not obstacles to, revitalization. Communities directly affected by contamination and blight, or by planned redevelopment or other reuse projects, shall be given resources to participate effectively during all phases of Brownfields projects. Where possible, the community shall determine when, where, and how Brownfields projects are initiated and finished. Public meetings, advisory boards, and other forms of communications shall be designed so members of the community, including youth, can shape, not just react to or comment on, plans for remediation and reuse. To ensure that members of the public have a genuine opportunity to shape Brownfields activity in their communities, public subsidies for assessment, remediation, and development shall be contingent on the fulfillment of measurable efforts to consult the public. The full burden of public involvement shall not fall upon government agencies, however. Other parties-developers, foundations, etc.-are also obligated to consult the public in all stages of Brownfields decision-making. All stakeholders in the brownfields revitalization process, not just the affected community, benefit from full public involvement.

2. Community Assistance

We recommend that public programs designed to promote Brownfields revitalization ensure that community stakeholders affected by Brownfields have the information, the resources, and the opportunity to take part in the process. EPA's pilot grant applications and grants shall contain enforceable provisions requiring that community members be invited to the table with the resources they need to participate effectively and constructively. In addition, EPA and other bodies shall provide technical assistance grants, similar to those available at "Superfund" sites, and organizing assistance to community groups overseeing large sites, complex sites, or collections of sites, and they shall support workshops, leadership development, and other forms of community education. Community involvement programs shall be designed to overcome language or other cultural barriers to public participation.

3. Measures of Success

We recommend that the following definition of success be used: Brownfields projects are successful when they improve public health and the environment, promote economic recovery without "redlining," create ownership opportunities for the community, and/or enhance the quality of life in targeted brownfields areas. Placing properties back on the tax rolls is merely one measure of success. In fact, projects with no or minor direct economic return-such as the creation of safe public open space or the construction of comfortable, affordable housing-may better contribute to the long-term economic health of the community. A truly successful Brownfields community program establishes set timelines for projects and enables the community to establish the goals for revitalization. Members of the community (the residents and others most affected by Brownfields or revitalization), not project proponents, shall define success.

4. Community Development

We recommend that revitalization protect communities, not force out long-time residents. Protecting the culture and identity of a community shall be considered when public resources are used to promote or subsidize Brownfields projects. Special provisions shall be made to protect residents against displacement due to rising property values and improving neighborhood desirability. Such tools may include land trusts, financial restrictions on housing resale, and tax districts. Government subsidies-including tax breaks-shall be contingent on the development of community-approved community protection plans. In some cases, however, the community may choose the relocation of residents and businesses.

5. Public Health and the Quality of Life

We recommend that contamination not be "swept under the rug" to rush revitalization, because people usually live on or near Brownfields. Cleanup costs shall not be used as an excuse to perpetuate risks in communities affected by Brownfields. Cleanup standards shall not only be protective in the short run, but they shall enhance communities' flexibility for future land use change. Cleanup activities shall avoid risks from toxic releases and minimize the impact of dust, noise, odor, and traffic. If members of the affected community believe that a proposed Brownfields project does not completely address their health concerns, then it shall be sent back to the drawing board, and project sponsors shall involve community members, in a comprehensive manner, to address their concerns. If redevelopment-prompted cleanup does not appear likely to protect nearby residents and businesses, relocation of those neighbors shall be considered. Government agencies shall consider subsidizing the difference between containment remedies and permanent treatment. Adequate funding is needed to support the participation of public health agencies, at all levels of government, in Brownfields programs.

6. Community-Based Brownfields Projects

We recommend that EPA and its state counterparts establish direct funding channels to enable community-based, non-profit organizations to initiate and implement Brownfields projects where local government is unwilling or unable to sponsor revitalization activity desired by the community, or where local government is unwilling or unable to offer minimal levels of direct community participation. At times local governments do not share the priorities of community members affected by brownfields sites, they lack the staff or resources to initiate any type of brownfields program, or they are unwilling to involve the affected community. That shall not prevent other levels of government from supporting projects within those jurisdictions.

7. Financial Planning & Economic Planning

We recommend that government agencies, financial/lending institutions, foundations and others expand efforts to establish funding sources that directly support, match, or leverage community-based Brownfields revitalization. Financiers shall give preference to projects that are 1) controlled by representatives of the affected community and/or 2) benefit the public. Even when they have the expertise, community-based organizations-including community development corporations-often lack the capital and human resources to create successful Brownfields projects themselves. Current tax incentives favor the traditional models of development. Businesses that are given financial incentives shall clearly show contribution to the surrounding community. Special funding shall be established for undesirable properties such as orphaned sites.

8. Emerging Brownfields

We recommend that Brownfields revitalization programs be broadened to support the remediation and reuse of industrial properties still in operation by both the private and public sector but which, because of their hazardous nature, are susceptible to closure or relocation. Stakeholders shall consider a prevention strategy such as a Good Neighbor Agreement to soften the economic and health consequences-for the owners, workers, and neighbors-of a necessary shutdown. Businesses cannot be allowed to operate in a hazardous manner even if they are financially able to pay for cleanup, abatement, or penalties.

9. Community Needs and Concerns

We recommend that, before Brownfields revitalization takes place, communities be given technical and monetary resources to describe systematically their environmental concerns, about both existing conditions and possible future development, as well as their visions for any revitalization in their areas. This information may be collected through surveys or public meetings. Though the expertise of health and planning agencies is essential, it is also important that representative members of the community define the scope and mechanisms of any such study.

10. National Voice

We recommend that brownfields communities be provided with outlets for national representation. Many important policy decisions about Brownfields are being made at the state and national level, but today there is no systematic vehicle for representing community concerns in those discussions. EPA and other bodies seem willing to listen, but there is no organized national voice. Some of the members of Environmental Justice/Community caucus try to represent community views in various forums, but it directly represents only a small percentage of the nation's Brownfields communities. Many communities are not organized. Others are simply not plugged in. EPA and private foundations shall fund a national Environmental Justice/Community Network on Brownfields. The Network would implement the following tasks: 1) establish a public participation model similar in purpose to the ASTM Standard Process Guide of Sustainable Brownfields Redevelopment, 2) review and provide input on local, state, and national policies, and 3) share information and experiences among Network members.