Jump to main content.

2005 Brownfields Federal Programs Guide

Table of Contents



Successful brownfields cleanup and redevelopment results from sustained coordination of stakeholders, phases of work, technical resources and funding across a several year period. This programs guide outlines the technical and financial federal resources that can be leveraged for brownfields cleanup and redevelopment. The depth and breadth of federal resources are great and apply to as many types of redevelopment as exist. While experience is the best teacher when seeking and getting federal support for brownfields cleanup and redevelopment, there are some basic concepts that have proven fruitful over the course of EPA’s Brownfields Program. In general, these ideas boil down to the need to think broadly about a project and plan early for its success.

It is important to remember when seeking funding and assistance for brownfields cleanup and redevelopment that while many federal programs are applicable to brownfields properties, the term brownfield is often not used. As a rule, when looking for resources, the best path to success is one in which the project at hand is described in reference to the funding organization. For example, if Anytown, USA has a brownfields property that is between a bus station and a park, when seeking assistance from the Department of Transportation or the National Park Service, describe the property in terms of transportation needs and parks — not merely in terms of brownfields because the staff member at those agencies reading the application may not know anything about brownfields.

Brownfields Planning

Jointly plan for and consider the social, economic and environmental factors from the outset of the project when pursuing any kind of assistance.

Any funder is essentially investing in the success of the cleanup and redevelopment. To that end, a funder wants to see that the social, economic and environmental soundness of the project is well thought out. This might include a calendar, maps or demonstrations of stakeholders working together (i.e., newspaper articles, financial letters of commitment, letters of support). Plan ahead, create a vision for your effort and be able to draw the picture—tell the story early and often.

Integrate brownfields with community and regional projects.

Answer these questions: how does the brownfields land use coordinate with other local/regional plans? How are various components of government working together to achieve some sort of social, economic or environmental results? Think broadly about what sort of land use, transportation, education, public health, job creation/training or community development/housing efforts the cleanup and redevelopment is touching or catalyzing. If a funder does not specifically fund brownfields, think about how to describe your project in other terms.

Think through the lifespan of the project.

Have an eye on funding for parts of your project that are years ahead. Talk with federal officials about your ideas and learn what others who have been funded are doing. The more familiar that an official is with your project, the more guidance and feedback you may receive.

Expect defeat, delays and rejections, and make corrections.

Use set backs as learning experiences; if your proposal is denied, call the funding office and ask for an explanation about what your proposal was lacking and how it could be made stronger. If you feel as if your project was not clearly understood, explain your effort to the federal official to see what factors the person responds to and include it in the next proposal. If at first you do not succeed, seek feedback, keep in touch throughout the year and apply again for funding.

Diversify funding.

As this report reveals, the federal government has a wealth of resources available for brownfields projects. However, it is important to note that each funding opportunity is for a specific purpose and grant seekers should not expect to address all brownfields problems with a single grant. Likewise, while the federal government has a range of resources, states, regions and local communities also have resources that can be leveraged. Sometimes state funding can be obtained in concert with federal funds. Likewise, local and regional foundations and corporate interests are often interested in investing in community-based efforts. Like any solid portfolio, brownfields project teams should look to a range of grants, loans and other fiscal incentives across a spectrum of funders. Also, it is important to remember that many funding organizations are simply not familiar with brownfields, so asking them if they fund brownfields projects would likely yield a negative response. However, if you describe a brownfields project in terms that they understand, you may get positive results about available funding opportunities.

Provide feedback and communicate with funders.

Your success story is your funder’s success story. Be sure to provide information, photos and narrative text that demonstrate progress. At the same time, give your funder a picture of where the project is going and what the subsequent needs are.

Brownfields is only a name.

If a grant opportunity does not specifically mention brownfields, these projects may still be eligible for assistance. Brownfields projects are eligible for many types of funding across federal agencies. Many of the programs outlined in this report would not describe themselves as brownfields programs, even though they are perfectly aligned.

Why Are There Federal Programs to Support Brownfields?

Brownfields have different cleanup and redevelopment costs and other issues that can hinder private investment. For these reasons, support from the federal government can stimulate interest from other technical and financial sectors to effect results, such as paying for assessments or cleanup costs. In addition, oftentimes the infrastructure in and around brownfields properties is old and dilapidated and needs a public investment to bring it up to today’s standards of transportation, water supplies or electricity. Support for infrastructure also helps to coordinate local, state and federal efforts. When the federal government funds some of these initial costs, revitalization will ultimately be an economic stimulus that contributes tax dollars and other resources back to the community.

How Can Public Programs Help?

While federal resources support many projects, others are funded entirely by states and local governments; and still others with private investments. Using public programs to strengthen is a goal of federal brownfields programs. Therefore, the most successful brownfields cleanup and redevelopment efforts recognize private lender and developer concerns as well as perceived risks. They aim to help local governments and private parties address financing concerns and better manage brownfields risks by meeting at least one of the following objectives.

Ensure a minimum return

Incentives such as loan guarantees or companion loans can ensure a minimum return or quantify any potential loss. Public programs can also offer support, such as environmental insurance, that limits the borrower’s exposure to unforeseen problems that may affect the value of collateral or the borrower’s ability to pay.

Reduce the borrower’s cost of financing.

Financial tools such as loan subsidies can reduce interest costs on project loans (for example, with tax-exempt financing or low-interest loans). Program staff also can reduce loan underwriting and documentation costs by offering loan packaging assistance or technical support, such as the type that might be available through Community Development Corporations (CDCs). In some cases, public entities can help cut borrowing costs by partnering with site users to prepare records and help maintain institutional controls.

Offer terms or incentives to ease the borrower’s financial situation.

Tools like tax abatements, tax credits or grace periods can improve the project’s cash flow and make the project numbers work. These tools can be helpful in mixed-use project scenarios that include open space. Similarly, training and technical assistance services can offset project costs and reduce a property re-user’s need for cash.

Offer assistance or information that provides investor and lender comfort.

Links to information about new remedial technologies, along with performance data for new technologies and institutional controls, or insurance that can help transfer risk, can increase the investor’s and lender’s comfort level with a brownfields project.

Provide direct financing help.

When contamination is suspected, money for site assessment and cleanup is often the hardest piece of the financing puzzle to solve. Therefore, providing grants or forgivable loans for these purposes may be critical.

About this Guide

This guidebook is designed to present information about a range of federal resources that can provide technical and financial support to brownfields cleanup and redevelopment. In addition to program information, the report includes a quick reference matrix that identifies specific types of projects with specific funders. Review the matrix to see how many different types of projects can be supported through federal programs. Might there be a bike path or public transportation stop on your site? Might there be some recreational or urban forestry facilities? The matrix can help to match up your project needs with potential funding sources. The guidebook also has an outline of steps for successful grant writing and a process chart and check lists that can be adapted.

The bulk of the guide is an overview of the federal program areas with funding information organized by federal agency. There are also snapshots of brownfields projects that have successfully leveraged funding. These snapshots are meant to stimulate thinking about how funds can be creatively used in brownfields cleanup and redevelopment. Contact information and resources are listed in the guide. Web sites to particular programs are noted under the program description. If there are not specific Web sites to programs, the agency Web site is listed under the contact information.

This guide contains a brief discussion of additional federal tools and resources and other issues to consider, such as coordination of state and federal funds. There is also an extensive overview of tax credit information and other possible financial incentives.

This guide is only a guide. It is not the only source of information available about funding that can be applied to brownfields. Federal programs are evolving and there are continually different programs being developed, some with applications for brownfields. To keep up to date on federal programs, please refer to the resources below:

Federal Register

Catalog for Federal Domestic Assistance


Region 3 | Mid-Atlantic Cleanup | Mid-Atlantic Brownfields & Land Revitalization

Local Navigation

Jump to main content.