Brownfields Program Environmental and Economic Benefits
EPA’s Brownfields program empowers states, communities, and other stakeholders to work together to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. Revitalizing brownfield sites creates benefits throughout the community.
Through fiscal year 2020, on average, $20.13 was leveraged for each EPA Brownfields dollar and 10.3 jobs were leveraged per $100,000 of EPA brownfields funds expended on assessment, cleanup, and revolving loan fund cooperative agreements.
A study completed for EPA in 2020 looked at the environmental benefits that accrue when brownfield sites are used for redevelopment. The study found that when housing and job growth is accommodated by redeveloping existing brownfields sites, the expansion of paved impervious surfaces and average vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita/per job are reduced as compared to accommodating the same amount of growth on previously undeveloped sites.
Key findings of the study:
- Brownfields are often “location-efficient” due to their central location and connections to existing infrastructure.
- Typically, brownfields are centrally located in metro areas with good connections to local infrastructure, including roadways and stormwater utilities.
- Being able to reuse existing infrastructure is an important advantage to brownfields redevelopment. This saves on infrastructure expense and prevents additional environmental degradation from building on greenfields. In addition, brownfield sites are often near other metro services and amenities, such as job centers, shopping, schools, health centers, transit, and housing. Individuals tend to drive less when living or working in a metro area because they have many choices for transportation (such as walking, biking, bus, train, ride sharing, etc.).
- 11-13% of the jobs and housing growth expected between 2013-2030 could be supported on brownfield sites.
- Redeveloping brownfields reduces the amount of impervious surface expansion by 73-80%.
- The study results show that, on average, for every 1 brownfield acre redeveloped, approximately 1.3 to 4.6 acres of new impervious surface will not need to be built.
- If the same development occurred at a non-brownfield site, the development would lead to more impervious surface being created. This is a problem because impervious surfaces do not allow stormwater to infiltrate the ground. Instead, stormwater runs off the site or roadway, picking up pollutants and contaminants along the way and contributing to the spread of contamination.
- Since brownfield sites tend to be in densely developed, centralized areas, redevelopment in these areas leads to shorter car trips and overall reduced car use due to more efficient home/work travel patterns. These efficient travel patterns reduce growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
- Redeveloping brownfields reduces residential VMT resulting from new growth by 25-33%. The study results show that, on average, residents living on or near redeveloped brownfield sites are likely to drive less, generating 7.3 to 9.7 fewer VMT per capita per day than if they lived in non-brownfield locations.
- Redeveloping brownfields reduces jobs-related VMT resulting from new growth by 9-10%. The study results show that, on average, employees who work on or near redeveloped brownfield sites are likely to drive less, generating 2.1 to 2.5 fewer VMT per capita per day than if they worked on non-brownfield locations.
- These reductions produce important environmental benefits, including:
- improved water quality associated with reduced runoff from stormwater and nonpoint pollutant sources, and
- improved air quality associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle travel.
A 2017 study concluded that cleaning up brownfield properties led to residential property value increases of 5 - 15.2% within 1.29 miles of the sites.1 Analyzing data near 48 of those brownfields, another study found an estimated $29 to $97 million in additional tax revenue for local governments in a single year after cleanup—2 to 7 times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to the cleanup of those brownfields.2 Initial anecdotal surveys indicate a reduction in crime in recently revitalized brownfields areas.
Opportunity to expand the assessment program and leverage funds and jobs has increased. Policy clarification allows the use of site assessment dollars for environmental assessments in conjunction with efforts to promote area-wide planning around brownfield sites. The use of funds for these purposes is particularly important in economically distressed areas. In certain instances, where assessments reveal immediate threats to the environment or human health, EPA could implement a more programmatic use of removal funds.
1 Haninger, K., L. Ma, and C. Timmins. 2017. The Value of Brownfield Remediation. Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists 4(1): 197-241.
2 Sullivan, K. 2017. Brownfields Remediation: Impact of Local Residential Property Tax Revenue, Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management 19(3).