Minnesota Brownfields Goes to Washington: Recapping the National Brownfields Leadership Summit

Minnesota Brownfields Goes to Washington: Recapping the National Brownfields Leadership Summit
by Martha Faust, Minnesota Brownfields Executive Director

Last week, brownfield experts and advocates from across the country convened in Washington, D.C. for the inaugural National Brownfields Leadership Summit. Organized by the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR or “see clear”), the National Brownfields Leadership Summit (September 25-26) served as a an opportunity to learn and advocate for critical federal programs that are essential to accelerating brownfield redevelopment projects.

CCLR offers training and technical assistance to communities seeking to recycle urban land, and advocates for policy change at the federal, state, and local levels to make land reuse a priority across the country. Minnesota Brownfields serves as a member of the CCLR Advisory Board.

The National Brownfields Leadership Summit brought together public, private and nonprofit representatives for two days of intensive learning and networking. Minnesota attendees to the National Brownfields Leadership Summit included: Martha Faust (Minnesota Brownfields), Mary Finch (Hennepin County) and Heidi Timm-Bijold (City of Duluth). It was energizing to have so many brownfield types together in one location. One attendee described it as “like Burning Man for Brownfielders”.

Day one of the summit showcased the range of federal programs that support brownfield cleanup and reuse, starting with the U.S. Environmental Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields and Superfund Programs. Community revitalization success stories from around the country were presented that highlight the need and benefit of these programs. EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization Director David Lloyd was on hand to describe changes to the EPA Brownfields Program via the Program’s Congressional reauthorization earlier in 2018. The day concluded with an overview of the latest news related to the Department of Treasury’s new Opportunity Zones designation.

On day two, attendees travelled to Capitol Hill for meetings with each state’s Congressional delegation to describe the impact of EPA’s Brownfields Program on local community revitalization. Bipartisan support for the program was evident in morning remarks to the group by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)
and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY). Each lawmaker noted the good news of recent reauthorization of the Brownfields Program (via the 2018 BUILD Act). But while the program was authorized at $250 million annually, the FY19 appropriation is only $163 million. Rep. McKinley referred to $163 million as “a joke” relative to the level of need. The unfortunate reality is that unless Congress increases its appropriation to the level of $250 million, changes in EPA’s Brownfield Program may result in larger grants, but for a smaller number of communities. This isn’t good news, as already less than a third of grant proposals are funded.

Minnesota attendees to the National Brownfields Leadership Summit met with three members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation: Representative Betty McCollum (MN-04), and staff in the offices of Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith. Representative McCollum is in a key position of oversight of the EPA’s Budget, as the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment.

At its conclusion, the National Brownfields Leadership Summit was heralded as an inspiring and successful convening, but truly just a first step. CCLR’s Policy Director Ken Brown suggested these next steps for attendees, and the broader brownfields community as a way of creating ongoing touchpoints with policymakers:

  • Invite Congressional representatives to celebrate project milestones such as ribbon cuttings.
  • Stay in touch with Congressional offices throughout the year. For the FY2020 budgeting process, February-March are key months.

CCLR plans to reconnect its national network about outreach to members of Congress in early 2019, when they will organize a campaign to support funding for brownfield redevelopment in the FY2020 budget. CCLR’s goal is to make the National Brownfields Leadership Summit an annual event, as a complement to EPA Brownfields Conferences. Our thanks to CCLR and its partners for launching this renewed national dialog about the federal role in brownfield cleanup and reuse.

To learn more:

Visit CCLR’s website for reflections on the Summit and to access presentations and materials.
View letters sent by Minnesota Brownfields to Representative Betty McCollum, and Senators Klobuchar and Smith.
View an EPA Brownfields impact fact sheet prepared by Minnesota Brownfields.

If you have questions
about Congressional outreach, please contact Martha Faust at mfaust@mnbrownfields.org or Ken Brown of CCLR at ken.brown@cclr.org