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December 2, 2003

Report: New brownfield law will do little good in New York City

New York State’s new brownfield law will do little good in New York City because it imposes needlessly stringent cleanup standards, according to a report from the city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO).

The new IBO report echoes objections voiced by The Business Council during debate over the law, which the Governor signed into law in October. The report, which was published December 1, is called “Will New State Law Help Reclaim New York’s Brownfields?” It is available from www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/.

Ironically, the law was passed despite strong protests from interests in western New York which argued that the law was designed to be attractive in New York City and downstate but would do little good upstate and in western New York.

“Under the new law, contaminated groundwater must generally be cleaned up to drinking-water standards,” the report said. “This is very expensive but provides little benefit to public health in the city, which obtains nearly all its drinking water from . . . reservoirs rather than wells.”

In addition, the law favors sites with high potential for economic development measured by job creation, the report said.

“This could place this city at a disadvantage, because brownfield sites here are typically quite small compared to upstate, thus limiting any given site’s job-creating potential,” the IBO report said.

The IBO also expressed concern about the tax credits the new law provides as an incentive for brownfield remediation.

The credits are increased for neighborhoods that meet specific poverty benchmarks, the report said, adding: “Many New York City neighborhoods with brownfields may not qualify.”

The report acknowledges that the new law has made some progress in addressing such issues as liability and cost that had previously inhibited buyers from developing brownfields.

“In other respects, however, it falls short in addressing some of the city’s difficult brownfield remediation challenges,” the report said.

The IBO’s fiscal brief is available from www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/. For a summary of all aspects of the law, see www.bcnys.org/inside/env/a9120summary.pdf. For a memo highlighting the tax-credit provisions in the law, visit www.bcnys.org/inside/env/a9120memo.pdf.