EPA's Use of Funds for Brownfield Revitalization Gao ID: RCED-98-87 March 19, 1998

Federal, state, and local governments have focused much attention on the cleanup and economic redevelopment of abandoned urban properties, known as "brownfields," that have real or perceived chemical contamination. Because of the potential expense to clean up contaminated sites in accordance with federal and state environmental laws, businesses have often chosen to locate on uncontaminated sites outside of urban areas, costing cities tax revenues and job opportunities. This report discusses the activities that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has supported with funds targeted for brownfields in its budgets for fiscal years 1997 and 1998. GAO focuses on two program categories of brownfield expenditures--the outreach, technical assistance, and research category and the job training category--because they are not as directly related to assessing sites for the extent of contamination present, a key first step toward cleanup, as the other program categories. GAO identifies any grants and agreements that EPA has awarded since fiscal year 1993--the first year the agency began its brownfield efforts--to determine (1) the criteria and process EPA used to award these grants and agreements, (2) the uses that recipients made of these funds, and (3) the monitoring and oversight EPA provided for them.

GAO noted that: (1) EPA primarily uses its brownfield funds to help state, local, and tribal governments build their capacities to assess, clean up, and revitalize brownfield sites; (2) EPA is using the majority of its $126 million in brownfield funds for fiscal years 1997 and 1998 to: (a) help these groups identify, assess, characterize, and develop clean-up plans for brownfield sites; (b) provide them with seed money to create revolving loan funds that they could use to award low-interest loans for cleanups; (c) support state development of programs that provide incentives for voluntary cleanup of sites, especially brownfields; and (d) provide outreach to groups affected by brownfields, technical assistance to them on clean-up and redevelopment methods, and research for them on brownfield issues; (3) EPA is using the remaining brownfield funds for support and other program activities, such as EPA's personal costs; (4) EPA set up four broad criteria and an approval process to award funds noncompetitively to nonprofit organizations for their unsolicited proposals to provide outreach, technical assistance, research, and job training; (5) the criteria included increasing community involvement at brownfields, promoting redevelopment, providing for site assessments, and sustaining a clean environment for the future; (6) if the proposals met one of the four criteria, the managers responsible for most of the brownfield activities explained that they generally would fund the proposals if the nonprofit organization represented unique constituents affected by brownfields, such as tribes, or offered unique brownfield expertise or experience; (7) although EPA has used the same process and criteria to award a few job training grants and agreements, it is developing a strategic plan to use as criteria for making future awards; (8) since fiscal year 1993, award recipients have used $3.7 million from the 24 outreach and job training awards GAO reviewed to conduct brownfield-specific activities; (9) award recipients used additional funds from the 24 awards for outreach and job training activities in support of the broader Superfund program or other EPA programs, although some of these activities would also indirectly help promote brownfield cleanup and redevelopment; and (10) EPA staff responsible for managing the 24 awards GAO reviewed were monitoring the overall status of the budget for each award and the content and quality of recipients' activities through various means.

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