1998 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Tony Chenhansa <tonyc@cpeo.org>
Date: 23 Dec 1998 17:00:23
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: REPORT on the Environmental Justice/Community Group Caucus at BF 98
Report on the Environmental Justice/Community Group Caucus at
Brownfields '98
Los Angeles, California
Center for Public Environmental Oversight & the Urban Habitat Program
December, 1998

A formatted version of the report will be available at

On November 17, 1998, the Center for Public Environmental Oversight
(CPEO) and the Urban Habitat Program (UHP) held the 2nd annual
Environmental Justice/Community Group Caucus, at the Brownfields '98
Conference, in Los Angeles, California. The meeting was attended by
community and environmental justice activists, as well as officials from
EPA and other agencies. The two-hour meeting allowed the representatives
of community-based organizations and government officials to meet each
other and discuss brownfields revitalization efforts at the community

The meeting, with its informal atmosphere and racially and
geographically diverse attendance, offered a unique opportunity for open
dialogue. Many participants are involved with the EPA Brownfields Pilot
Program. Each attendee appreciated the chance to say a few words about
her/his own brownfields experiences in front of representatives from
EPA. Even though participants raised few new issues, many found it
useful for people to hear about problems they had not encountered yet.
All the views and comments were exchanged in an open and respectful

The report below presents a collection of individual assertions, many of
which were repeated by several participants in the meeting. However,
there was no attempt to take votes or reach consensus.

The dialogue focused on developing solutions for the concerns raised;
the meeting considered two principal questions:

1)      What's missing from the brownfields formula?

2)      What's working for communities?


Community activists working on brownfields issues have to invest large
amounts of up-front time to become effective participants in the
decision-making process. It usually takes hours of reading for a person
to become comfortable with the language of environmental reports and
city planning. Some caucus members suggested workshops on chemistry and
the regulatory process to improve the capacity of citizens to
participate in the decision-making process. Participants made the
distinction of building community capacity versus local government
capacity. The residents and activists who represent the community are
already overworked; participants said they need to be compensated for
going to meetings and reading documents. People who can't participate in
the up-front community planning won't be able to voice effectively
long-term environmental justice concerns.


What happens after EPA hands over the check to the City? On more than
one occasion participants suggested the need for better monitoring of
Pilot awardees. Attendees complained that EPA fails to oversee and
follow up the commitments that Pilot awardees have promised in their
grant applications. In most cases there are no consequences for local
governments that do not comply with EPA public participation
requirements. In a few cases, the pilot money that was supposed to be
used in a neighborhood was actually redirected to another area.

Part of the problem stems from the different definitions of having a
"successful" brownfields project. The University of Delaware evaluated
the Environmental Justice and community involvement activities at EPA
Pilot sites across the country. It found that the traditional paradigm
of "success" is defined by government agencies as the 1) number of jobs
created, 2) amount of money leveraged, and 3) tax revenue created.
Evaluations using this paradigm are unable to show how a project
benefited the people who were negatively affected by the brownfield
property in the first place. This is where improved follow-up evaluation
could play a key role.

There are philosophical differences among stakeholders over brownfields
site selection criteria. Community stakeholders tend to favor the
development of smaller brownfield sites while cities tend to seek the
economic rewards of bigger developments. One participant called for ways
to address gas stations as part of the Brownfields Pilot Program.

At pilots where community members consider Environmental Justice issues
a high priority, attendees argued that brownfields project managers are
ignorant of Environmental Justice issues and don't know how to
incorporate them into the project. On the flip side, one argued that
people need to recognize that there are some managers - in EPA Region
II, for example - who do understand Environmental Justice issues. A
participant pointed out that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act allows
affected communities to influence the siting of polluting facilities.


Success cannot be merely defined in terms of dollars and cents. Rather
it should be judged by the effectiveness of a community's ability to
drive and benefit from the redevelopment process. People kept coming
back to issue of building community capacity. Access to technical
assistance seems to be the first hurdle in tackling the multi-faceted
brownfields problem. For government and private sector stakeholders,
access to technical resources is not a problem. However, there are some
hopeful examples: In Massachusetts, Alternative Communities &
Environment is in the process of creating a clearinghouse that would
bring together environmental justice groups and technical consultants. A
similar effort called NICHE is being set up in EPA Region 9.

The ability to form alliances with local, state, and EPA officials
proved to be beneficial for community groups who have the capacity and
resources to do it. In Detroit, education efforts were directed towards
city council members who were ignorant about "brownfield" issues. The
Portland community, which had support from mainstream environmental
organizations, was able to get an EPA point person in their community.
In fact, they were able to change the way the city managed its project.
Portland's work plan now specifically addresses how and where community
involvement will take place. Penetrating the government bureaucracy is
the most frustrating and labor intensive part of the community
stakeholders' work.


The scarcity of community representation on the discussion panels at
Brownfields '98 disappointed caucus attendees. In response, EPA
officials promised to involve a community-based co-sponsor in the
planning of next year's Brownfields Conference. Community stakeholders
also want to influence how EPA works in the community. The caucus will
therefore move beyond meeting and networking at national Brownfields
meetings. It will identify and pursue tangible goals. In fact, EPA
agreed to work with the Caucus to create a list of ten improvements for
EPA's Brownfields Pilot Program.


Most of the attendees seemed to agree that it is time to organize
nationally. The EPA Brownfields Program is the unfortunate hostage of
Superfund reform; therefore no one know how Brownfields will be finally
incorporated into EPA's programs. So it's important to institutionalize
the community stakeholders' policy issues while the opportunity still
exists. Participants agreed that follow-up mechanisms and capacity
building activities need to be incorporated into current and future
pilot projects. Communities, local governments, and EPA must determine
mechanisms for institutionalizing community involvement and
environmental justice issues in the decision-making process when a
project moves beyond the pilot phase. Unless all stakeholders work
towards addressing these issues, community stakeholders will continue to
be skeptical about the rewards of Brownfields redevelopment.

CPEO and UHP will be encouraging other community-based organizations to
contribute to this national effort. Anyone interested in working on the
list of ten improvement recommendations should contact Tony Chenhansa at
CPEO 415-904-7751 or e-mail tonyc@cpeo.org.

Tony Chenhansa,  Program Coordinator
Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO)
425 Market Street 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA  94105
ph: 415-904-7751 fx: 415-904-7765
e-mail: tonyc@cpeo.org

A program of the San Francisco Urban Institute

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