Overview of the Brownfields Program

Definition of Brownfields

With certain legal exclusions and additions, the term "brownfield site" means real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands.

The definition is found in Public Law 107-118 (H.R. 2869), the "Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act", signed into law January 11, 2012. View the text of the law (PDF) (27 pp, 187 K, About PDF).

What is a Brownfield?

A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and both improves and protects the environment.

The Anatomy of a Brownfields Redevelopment  provides an overview of the Brownfields cleanup and redevelopment process from a real estate development perspective. The document identifies key challenges in Brownfields redevelopment, critical participants in Brownfields transactions, and important stages throughout processes such as pre-development, assessment, cleanup and development, and long-term property management. Example scenarios from projects using private, public-private, and public funding sources are included. The document also provides a brief glossary of key terms, as well as additional resources for those looking to clean up and redevelop brownfields.

Grants Stimulate Cleanup and Redevelopment 

Since its inception in 1995, EPA's Brownfields Program has grown into a proven, results-oriented program that has changed the way contaminated property is perceived, addressed, and managed. EPA's Brownfields Program is designed to empower states, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, EPA provided small amounts of seed money to local governments that launched hundreds of two-year Brownfields "pilot" projects and developed guidance and tools to help states, communities and other stakeholders in the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields sites. The 2002 Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act (the "Brownfields Law") codified many of EPA's practices, policies and guidance. The Brownfields Law expanded EPA's assistance by providing new tools for the public and private sectors to promote sustainable Brownfields cleanup and reuse.

Brownfields grants continue to serve as the foundation of EPA's Brownfields Program. These grants support revitalization efforts by funding environmental assessment, cleanup, and job training activities.