Speeches By EPA Administrator
Administrator Johnson, 2005 Brownfields Conference, Denver, CO11/02/2005
When President Bush asked me to become Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, he charged me with accelerating the pace of our nation’s environmental progress – not just merely continuing with the status quo.
Instead of being viewed by some as a source of conflict, EPA should be seen as a source of cooperation, expanding our efforts in voluntary, collaborative partnerships.
And, instead of being seen by some as a stumbling block to economic growth, EPA will uphold environmental standards while working with individuals and industry to find innovative solutions.
EPA’s commitment to the Brownfields Program reflects both of these goals. It is a collaborative model of environmental protection that forges strong public-private partnerships, and promotes innovative and creative solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing environmental challenges.
This year, as part of EPA’s ongoing efforts to promote economic revitalization while safeguarding the environment and public health, the Agency will once again be awarding approximately $75 million in Brownfields grants to communities nationwide.
Since we began the program, EPA has awarded 881 assessment grants, 202 revolving loan fund grants, and 256 cleanup grants … you are probably wondering what all these numbers mean.
Well, as Administrator, one of my priorities is to quantify the end results from all our programs … and results are exactly what our Brownfields program has consistently delivered.
By encouraging cleanup and redevelopment of hundreds of thousands of America’s abandoned and contaminated waste sites, EPA’s Brownfields program has leveraged more than $7.2 billion in private investment … helped leverage more than 33,500 jobs … and resulted in the assessment of more than 7,400 properties.
These are impressive numbers. But the Brownfields program isn’t just about improving local environments and economies … it is about providing the opportunity to put both people and property back to work.
President Bush and EPA are committed to taking problem properties and transforming them back into community assets.
We are committed to empowering people to work together to revitalize and rehabilitate their communities.
And we are committed to converting waste sites back into something of pride.
It gives people pride when they can turn an industrial site into a riverfront park. It gives people pride when they transform a landfill into a golf course. It gives people pride when they turn a rail corridor into a recreational trail.
When people are proud of their communities, they are invested in each other and in the future of their neighborhoods.
And this is why I think all of us are here in this room today … we are all invested in the future health of our nation – both environmentally and economically.
I have three grandchildren. They are all fairly young, but when they grow up, I want them to know that their grandfather did all he could to ensure their future. I want them to know that I did my best to hand them a country with cleaner air, water and land than when it was handed to me. I want them to know that I did all I could do to provide them a country with unlimited economic opportunities.
I believe we are here to provide the next generation with a future that is economically sound, and environmentally healthy … and a successful Brownfields program is an important component of this future.
We have seen the fruits of this commitment to the next generation in communities across the nation – including right here in Colorado.
I’m sure that just like many of you, everyday when I drive into work I see a number of abandoned shopping centers dotting the landscape. These former economic and social centers are not only eyesores … they are becoming sources of environmental concerns.
For example, for around 35 years, the Villa Italia mall was a center of commerce for Lakewood, Colorado – just about 15 miles from Denver. By 1999, this 103-acre site had fallen into a state of disrepair and was 90-percent vacant. Although residents and local businesses needed a place the community could call "downtown," the soil and groundwater at the Villa Italia mall were contaminated.
Fortunately, the City looked beyond the site’s environmental challenges and found a willing redevelopment team that saw the potential for success. This effective public private partnership utilized a grant from EPA's Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund program, as well as a combination of bonds and other local tax benefits to finance this $220 million project.
The team used an innovative technology to cleanup the groundwater, cutting two years form the anticipated remediation timeline.
In just under four years, the first phase of the project has delivered incredible results, helping to leverage almost 13,500 jobs, 127 new residential units, 200,000 square feet of office space and 650,000 square feet of retail space, a 16-screen movie theater, 4,000 parking spaces, and a 2-acre park.
All in all – Lakewood is a remarkable collaborative-success story – putting both people and property back to work.
Today, I am proud to signify the culmination of an extraordinary example of collaboration, by announcing the EPA’s final standard on “all appropriate inquiries.”
At last, localities, communities, developers and the private sector will have a new rule which establishes clear standards for environmental due diligence. It increases their certainty regarding Superfund liability protection, and improves information about environmental conditions of properties. It also is expected to increase private cleanups of brownfields properties, and reduce urban sprawl.
They key to this rule is that it was developed collaboratively with stakeholders representing diverse constituencies
Committee members representing the real estate industry, bankers, environmental interest groups, the retail industry, environmental justice organizations, and state, tribal and local governments reached consensus around the rule … a remarkable achievement.
Today’s final rule brings closure to their hard work.
I know that among the over 4-thousand attendees at this Conference, many of the members who helped draft the consensus language are here with us today. I would like to commend you all for creating a clear, concise and effective rule for carrying out environmental due diligence.
How about a round of applause for their extraordinary efforts.
This rule is both environmentally protective and economically efficient.
During the rest of this conference, several sessions will be offered on the new rule, including a special training session on the new ASTM standard developed in compliance with the rule.
The Brownfields Program continues to look to the future by expanding the types of properties it addresses, forming new partnerships, and undertaking new initiatives to help revitalize communities across the nation.
Two such initiatives are the Mine-Scarred Lands initiative and the Portfields Initiative:
The Mine-Scarred Lands Initiative is a collaboration of six federal agencies supporting the cleanup and revitalization of areas where the extraction and processing of ores and minerals has occurred.
This Initiative is working with local stakeholders on six projects across the country, which have already seen success in assessing and transferring properties, building partnerships, and developing strategic plans. Lessons learned through this Initiative will be used to build models of cleanup and reuse for mining communities across the country.
The second initiative – the Portfields Initiative – addresses brownfields in and around port cities. These collaborations between federal, state, port authorities, regional groups, a tribe, and various community partners provide the successful framework to expedite waterfront restoration and redevelopment.
The Portfields pilots have already leveraged millions of dollars, added new partners, and will continue to enable the successful beginning of massive waterfront revitalization, navigational dredging, and habitat restoration projects.
As I said before, our jobs are to ensure the next generation has a sound economy and a healthy environment … but we aren’t the only ones looking out for the future leaders of our nation.
After this speech, I am attending an unveiling ceremony for a new Girl Scouts of America "Brownfields" Merit Patch. The patch can be earned by engaging in Brownfields-related activities - such as attending a community involvement meeting, urban planning meetings, or any type of Brownfields site inventorying effort.
It is heartening to see that our youngest citizens are caring for their own future. For all of us who are taking on the enormous responsibility of turning eyesores back into engines of economic rebirth, it is good to know that the torch will be passed to reliable hands … the next generation will continue to put people and property back to work.
Before I go, I wish to thank you for all that you do – our nation is a better place because of your efforts. I encourage you to learn and to network as much as you can at this conference. We have all seen, by developing the creative public/private/nonprofit partnerships we can provide the next generation with the environmental and economic benefits of redeveloping Brownfields.
Thanks and I hope you have a productive conference.