The Trump administration may not be a fan of the US Environmental Protection Agency but it is supporting a House bill to extend until 2022 the payments to help clean up so-called “brownfields” sites. Such sites are industrial properties that have been contaminated and that would otherwise not have any future commercial or recreational use unless they are able to get restored.
To that end, the House voted last week 409 to 8 to authorize the funding to pay for those projects, which advocates say would lead to jobs and economic development — as opposed to having permanent blights in communities across the country. However, critics say that the $200 million annual allocations are a pittance of what is needed to make a real mark.
“EPA is committed to working with communities to redevelop Brownfields sites which have plagued their neighborhoods. EPA’s Assessment and Cleanup grants target communities that are economically disadvantaged and include places where environmental cleanup and new jobs are most needed,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
“These grants leverage considerable infrastructure and other investments, improving local economies and creating an environment where jobs can grow,” Pruitt added. “I am very pleased the President’s budget recognizes the importance of these grants by providing continued funding for this important program.”
Interestingly, Pruitt and President Trump are on the same page in terms of clipping EPA’s wings along with its overall funding. But Pruitt has said that he is committed to at least keeping the current funds to clean up the polluted sites. The president’s original fiscal 2018 budget would have cut EPA’s budget by $2.6 billion to $5.7 billion, or by nearly a third.
That would have included money to help pay for clean-ups at toxic sites that exist in many congressional districts. Funds targeted to that cause would be cut by a third, precluding hundreds of sites from getting repaired.
“This (current) bill is a compromise,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said, a story appearing The Hill. “I would have liked to include more funding for this important program, but I believe this bill will improve the program and bolster the federal investment in cleaning up these sites.”
Even though the EPA got its start under President Nixon in 1970, its detractors say that it has become a tool of environmentalists as well left-leaning Democrats — and one that restrains business development. That’s why its congressional critics have prevented the agency from becoming a cabinet post position.
But none of that should be construed to mean that conservatives favor business expansion at all cost.
Broadly speaking, corporate America is on board with environmental stewardship. Business ranging from Microsoft and Intel Corp. to DowDuPont, General Electric and General Mills are helping lead the charge for clean air and clean water as well as the pursuit to minimize heat-trapping emissions. Their position is that investments in the clean energy economy not only improve the ecology but also create newfound business opportunities. Moreover, it is what their customers want.
“In the U.S., it is local and state governments, along with businesses, that are primarily responsible for the dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in recent years,” adds a group of businesses and investors, as well as multiple cities and states. “Actions by each group will multiply and accelerate in the years ahead, no matter what policies Washington may adopt.”
When it comes to balancing the role between business growth and environmental protection, US lawmakers have valid disagreements about where that line should be drawn. But no one wants to see ugly blights in communities — especially if those industrial properties have no hope of some future use. That’s why the US House supports the measure to help fund such clean ups through 2022 and it is why the US Senate will as well.