What are Brownfields? 

While industrialization drove New York’s economy in the 20th century, many of the harsh chemicals and pollutants involved in industrial processes had a negative impact on the environment around industrial sites. These brownfields, leftover property where redevelopment is difficult due to the presence of contaminants, are located all over New York.

New York State’s Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP), last reauthorized in 2015, is set to expire this year. This program facilitates brownfield cleanup initiatives in order to redevelop the property and encourage economic development.

Environmental cleanup and stabilization

Of the 5,452 environmental sites across New York State, almost 17 percent are part of the Brownfield Cleanup Program, with the most heavily-impacted sites being located in Western and southern New York, specifically the New York City and Long Island areas.

The benefits for under-served communities

This program, first established in 2004, has provided considerable remediation benefits in the regions where cleanup initiatives have been carried out. In the eighteen years since this program’s establishment, the BCP has become an increasingly targeted and effective tool. In New York City, the BCP has made a significant contribution to housing, including the development of affordable housing options. Overall, site cleanup projects in NYC have supported the development of 20,000 residential units, 6,400 of which are affordable housing units.

However, as mentioned previously, this is not an issue that solely affects New York City. Since the first generation of the BCP, around 269 cleanup projects have been rolled out in Western New York, primarily in the Buffalo metropolitan area. Of those, 31 percent involved NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Environmental Sites, and over 60 percent of the projects took place in what are known as En-Zones, or areas affected by high poverty and high unemployment rates, based on Census data.

The economic benefits of reauthorizing BCP

In Western New York, projects funded with $325 million in tax credits have created jobs, improved the Buffalo area’s economic growth, and helped to slow suburban sprawl by strengthening the urban core. As such, brownfield cleanup projects did not only resolve the problems posed by environmental contamination, but also avoided greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise would have occurred during the commute to-and-from locations further from the urban core.

Examining the BCP from an economic perspective, the benefits of these cleanup projects go further than revitalizing regions previously facing environmental decay. The on-site rate of return consistently shows a ratio of $6.63 in private development for every $1 of tax credits. This ratio has been consistent over all three generations of this project, despite not taking into account increased estate tax revenues, jobs created or other community benefits. All in all, over the entire 18-year history of the program, there has been $2,777,119,165 in total tax credits received and $17, 615,720,951 in total development investment.

Returning to Western New York, one can analyze the impacts the cleanup programs had on local communities across the state. The 2020 US EPA Study of the Benefits of Brownfield Redevelopment looked at six categories of metropolitan areas, including “legacy cities” such as Buffalo, and found that at brownfield redevelopment sites, up to ten percent of job growth occurred, where these regions previously struggled with slow growth, low density, and auto-dependent development.

New York State’s Brownfield Cleanup Program has already made an impactful difference during its operation, providing opportunities for populations across the state and investing in their future by protecting New York’s natural resources through contaminant cleanups. The reauthorization of the program for 10 years would allow New York to put the needs of its citizens first, meeting climate emission goals long term by supporting community growth, development, and health moving forward.

By J. Dickinson-Frevola

02.18.22 // AUTHOR: Brett Spielberg // State Wide