U.S. EPA Brownfields Program Support

The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the United States. Redevelopment of these abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial properties is hindered by actual or perceived contamination. Although many brownfields are located in prime economic areas, such as urban centers, along waterfronts, or near transportation corridors and hubs, the fear of unknown contamination often discourages investment by developers and lenders. Instead, many new or expanding businesses choose to build new facilities on suburban or rural lands, to the detriment of the regional environment and inner-city economies.

Since 1995, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has supported states, local governments, tribes, and non-profit organizations by competitively awarding grants to fund environmental site assessments of key brownfields. Documenting explicit contamination that may be cleaned up, or that the site is free from actual contamination, reduces redevelopment uncertainties and encourages redevelopment. In recent years, EPA has expanded the types of grants available to include support for site cleanups and grants that can be used to capitalize a revolving loan fund, which provides a source of funding for loans and subgrants to carry out cleanup activities at brownfields sites. In addition, since 1998 EPA has offered job training grants that are designed to provide environmental technician training to residents living in communities impacted by brownfields.

Originally initiated as administrative reforms under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or "Superfund"), the brownfields program received its own legislative mandate in early 2002 under the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act ("Brownfields Law"). The passage of the Brownfields Law, together with an explosion in demand for these grants, spurred EPA to establish formal procedures to ensure that the influx of grant applications are evaluated in an accurate, timely, and transparently fair manner. Under a succession of uninterrupted contracts, EMS has been involved in this process since the program's inception in September 1994.

In the early years of the brownfields initiative, grant proposals were sent directly to EPA Headquarters for cataloguing, processing, and distribution to national evaluation panels. As the number of applications began to grow, EMS assumed these responsibilities under our mission support contract with EPA's newly created Office of Brownfields Cleanup and Redevelopment (OBCR).

Today, all brownfields applications for assessment, cleanup, revolving loan fund, and job training grants are sent directly to EMS for processing, tracking, and distribution to EPA's national evaluation panelists. In order to accurately manage and track hundreds of grant proposals each year, EMS created an innovative and comprehensive records management system that has become a mainstay of EMS's support to EPA's grant programs. This system, which is maintained electronically, is updated every year to reflect EPA's changing needs. The system currently holds hundreds of thousands of data points that are used to track every aspect of an applicant's proposal from receipt to award, including tracking numbers, funding requests, contact information, and demographic information. In addition, the system is used to track internal evaluation scores, total funding amounts, geographic and Regional distribution of awards, and other factors related to the grant selection process. The records management system allows EMS to generate comprehensive and highly detailed reports at a moment's notice, thereby affording EPA timely access to up-to-date, reliable information at any point during the grant selection process.

In addition, EMS has assisted in the development of new "All Appropriate Inquiry" regulations, provided logistical support to the brownfields office, drafted more than 2,000 grant fact sheets, assisted with Regional program evaluations and training, supported the federal interagency brownfields partnership, and provided policy and site assistance ("targeted site evaluations") to Regions and communities as part of the RCRA Brownfields Initiative. EMS also has begun a research and analysis effort to evaluate methods for quantifying the environmental benefits of assessments and cleanups funded through brownfields grants.