Brownfields to Biomass: Tapping EPA’s Grant Programs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has selected $78.9 million in brownfields grants to communities in 40 states, four tribes, and one U.S. Territory.  This funding will be used for the assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment of brownfields properties, including abandoned gas stations, old textile mills, closed smelters, and other abandoned industrial and commercial properties.

The brownfields program encourages redevelopment of America’s estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites.  As of March 2010, EPA’s brownfields assistance has leveraged more than $14 billion in cleanup and redevelopment funding.

In total, the EPA is selecting 304 grants through the Brownfields Assessment, Revolving Loan Fund, and Cleanup Grants programs:

  • 188 assessment grants, totaling $42.56 million, will conduct site assessment and planning for cleanup at one or more brownfields sites as part of a community-wide effort.
  • 17 revolving loan fund grants, totaling $17 million, will provide loans and subgrants for communities to begin cleanup activities at brownfields sites.  Revolving loan funds are generally used to provide low interest loans for brownfields cleanups.
  • 99 cleanup grants, totaling $19.36 million, will provide funding for grant recipients to carryout cleanup activities at brownfield sites they own.

Since the beginning of the brownfields program in 1995, EPA has awarded 1,702 assessment grants totaling $401 million, 262 revolving loan fund grants totaling more than $256.7 million, and 655 cleanup grants totaling $129.4 million.  As part of Administrator Jackson’s commitment to this program, the 2011 proposed budget includes an increase of $215 million for brownfields with a focus on planning, cleanup, job training and redevelopment.

In 2002, the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act was passed.  The brownfields law expanded the definition of what is considered a brownfield, so communities may now focus on mine-scarred lands, sites contaminated by petroleum, or sites contaminated as a result of manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs (e.g. meth labs).

Although the size of brownfield sites are generally best suited for solar, wind, or other less land-intensive renewable energy projects, they also offer an attractive option for some biomass projects, especially for siting facilities.

In particular, brownfields law provides special exemptions for municipal solid waste. EPA brownfield grants may also work in conjunction with brownfield-related grants administered by other agencies like HUD or Department of Commerce.  In some cases, biomass feedstock may be grown on brownfield sites, which offers an attractive option for simultaneously providing a source of power or fuel and remediation for the land.

The EPA estimates that there are .5 to 1 million brownfield sites in the United States (see EPA’s Mapping Tool Facilitates Biomass Power Plant Siting).

More information on EPA’s brownfields program:

Mackinnon is Editor & Publisher of Biomass Intel, a law and policy resource for sustainable energy, and co-author of Camelina Aviation Biofuels: Market Opportunity and Renewable Energy Report.

photo: rutio

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