Senators push bill updating brownfields program

Top senators on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee have introduced a bill to reauthorize the federal brownfields program, an Environmental Protection Agency effort to clean up former industrial areas where the land is too polluted for redevelopment. 

The bill, sponsored by EPW chairman Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate Senate GOP moving toward deal to break defense bill stalemate Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE (R-Okla.) and Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenators seek to curb counterfeit toys and goods sold online Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Pledged money not going to Indigenous causes MORE (D-Mass.) would make a host of changes to the program, including creating technical assistance grants for communities, expanding eligibility for brownfields funding and increasing the maximum size of the program's grants.

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Congress created the brownfields program in 2001, but it's gone without a formal reauthorization since 2006. Lawmakers appropriated $189 million for the program this year, and last week the EPA distributed $54.3 million in brownfields grants, worth between $200,000 and $600,000 each, to 243 project sites around the country. 

Inhofe said the senators' bill would "make several overdue improves to the brownfields program." 

"While Senator Markey and I may not see eye-to-eye on every environmental issue, the brownfields program is where we have found common ground to achieve real results in cleaning up contaminated sites while also promoting economic development across our states and in our local communities," he said in a statement. 

The bill has a slate of Republican and Democratic co-sponsors, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the EPW committee. Lawmakers on the panel passed a similar version of the bill unanimously last session.

"I look forward to working with Sen. Inhofe and my colleagues to ensure that these brownfield sites will no longer be part of the problem, but will be part of our economic solution," Markey said in a statement.