Last year, I met with members of the Shefton family of Cleveland. They lived near a former lead smelter site, but had to move when one of their sons was diagnosed with high-lead levels in his blood. No Ohio family or business should be forced to relocate because of hazardous materials or contaminated properties in its neighborhood. But unfortunately, this happens all too often in our state.
In Ohio, parcels of land known as brownfields are left behind after a commercial building or factory has been demolished or abandoned. These brownfields can be found in big cities and small towns in all parts of the state. In fact, by some estimates, Ohio has thousands of potential brownfield sites.
These brownfields don’t belong in neighborhoods where children walk to school, and they don’t belong in communities looking to attract new businesses.
We need to redevelop these sites to make way for new investments. That’s why I’m co-sponsoring legislation to clean-up, re-invest in, and re-develop these properties. The Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act would overhaul the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) existing Brownfields Program.
We know that by providing targeted funding and allowing increased flexibility, we increase the likelihood that more sites are cleaned up. That’s why the BUILD Act would increase clean-up grants and more than double the funding ceiling for remediation grants. The legislation would also allow the EPA to award multi-purpose grants, which means federal resources could be used for multiple elements of a project, including site inventory and planning and remediation for one or more brownfields.
In order to increase flexibility further, the bill also lets more nonprofits qualify for site-assessment grants. Right now, nonprofits can only apply for site clean-up grants, but we know that local organizations and community development groups have the capacity to do so much more, especially in smaller communities.
Finally, the BUILD Act maintains current funding levels through Fiscal Year 2016. Simply put, this means it would not be subject to partisan fights during the next presidential election.
The BUILD Act is a perfect example of a public-private partnership. By cleaning up previously used sites for redevelopment opportunities, we can attract private capital back to our cities. If we can incentivize developers and businesses to locate in our towns, we can increase local tax revenue and protect our green spaces from continued development.
The BUILD Act and the Brownfields program play an integral role in revitalizing vacant or abandoned properties to meet environmental and public health challenges while spurring economic development in Ohio.
We must do everything we can to ensure the brownfields around our state are cleaned up and are no longer eyesores in their communities.
Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.