September 15, 2003
Council: Brownfield bill would hurt manufacturers, but help brownfields little
A Superfund refinancing and brownfield reform bill that state lawmakers have just approved would “do little to encourage the brownfield redevelopment—but much to worsen manufacturers’ struggles,” according to the environmental policy specialist for The Business Council.
“In New York, developers still ignore most brownfields—and the bill the Legislature is set to pass won’t do much to change that,” Ken Pokalsky, director of environmental and economic development programs wrote in the Sept. 15 New York Post. Last week The Council filed a memorandum of opposition to the bill, which was given final legislative approval by the Senate on Tuesday.
Brownfields are abandoned business sites where environmental contamination impedes redevelopment. These old brick factories, abandoned gas stations, and the like were once well suited to business, and they could be again, Pokalsky wrote.
But fear of cost and liability exposure for new owners of brownfield sites discourages their redevelopment, he said.
Many other states began removing these obstacles to brownfield
redevelopment about 10 years ago, Pokalsky wrote. Typical
reforms include cleanup standards that reflect the intended
use of a site, a more timely and predictable approval process,
and liability standards “that don’t unduly burden
innocent parties with the consequences of contamination caused
The bill in New York State “won’t do much to change that,” he wrote in the Post. He cited several reasons:
- Because its review and approval schedules are not binding
on state regulators, “potential developers will have
no clear idea about when a project can move forward.”
- It includes “the most stringent brownfield-cleanup
standards in the nation. That will raise project costs without
adding significant environmental or public-health protections.”
- It saddles developers with “extensive new procedural
requirements that will add costs, delays and uncertainty
to redevelopment projects.”
- It offers post-cleanup liability reforms with too many “reopeners” that regulators can invoke after the issue had been closed—meaning that brownfield developers and site users “must always worry that they’ll be forced into expensive additional cleanups.”
Instead, New York should pass a law that includes binding timetables for state reviews of proposed projects, cleanup standards more clearly based on actual risks posed by contamination at the site, and strong post-cleanup liability protection for developers.
“These are not pie-in-the-sky business fantasies,” Pokalsky wrote. “Most of these policies are already in effect in places like Pennsylvania and other major states—where, not coincidentally, brownfield redevelopment is much farther advanced than it is in New York.”
The bill would also hurt New York’s manufacturers, Pokalsky said, by imposing new fees on business to refund the state Superfund program. “These fees would cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for many manufacturing plants—diverting these firms’ limited resources away from job creation, job retention and productivity improvements that enhance competitiveness.” And while this is billed as a "polluter pays" approach, most of these businesses have no responsibility for Superfund sites being cleaned using taxpayer funds, Pokalsky said in an interview.
“Brownfield-site cleanups simply don’t happen when states make them a bad business risk,” Pokalsky's op-ed concluded. “States that make it practical for businesses to do the job have positive results to show for it.