November, 1998
Citizens' Report on Brownfields
The Center for Public Environmental Oversight & the Pacific Studies Center Volume I, Number 1


For nearly five years, the Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO) and the Pacific Studies Center have been publishing the Citizens' Report on the Military and the Environment. Published several times each year, Military and the Environment. provides, at no cost, up to date information and analysis on military cleanup, pollution prevention, and related environmental issues to activists, journalists, academics, regulators, military, and industry.

Initially formed in response to the high concentration of military base closures in the San Francisco Bay Area, CPEO (originally the California Economic Recovery and Environmental Restoration Project, or CAREER/PRO) has steadily been drawn into the civilian version of military base closures: brownfields. Many of the lessons of base closure cleanup, transfer, and redevelopment are directly applicable to brownfields. Many communities must address closing bases and neighboring private brownfields properties at the same time. Thus, for CPEO Brownfields work was a natural addition to our program.

Last year we inaugurated the Brownfields Internet Forum, an Internet listserver and newsgroup currently used by hundreds of subscribers. This month we launch the Citizens' Report on Brownfields, which will disseminate to a larger audience reports and viewpoints, not only on U.S. EPA's Brownfields program, but on economic and environmental issues pertaining to any private site at which future use is linked to environmental remediation.

We offer the newsletter and Internet Forum, not just as one-way media to inform and influence our readers, but to encourage feedback. The principal goal of CPEO's brownfields work is to learn how public stakeholders -- the people who live and work in brownfields communities -- view national and state brownfields policies as well as brownfields reuse within their own neighborhoods. How can government officials, property owners, and the public take actions that simultaneously protect public health and encourage economic revitalization.

The Citizens' Report on Brownfields is distributed free of charge, but if you wish to receive it in the mail you'll have to subscribe. To be placed on the mailing list, contact CPEO at 425 Market Street, 2nd floor, San Francisco, CA, 94105, call CPEO (415/904-7751), send a fax to 415/904-7765, or send an E-mail request to You can subscribe to Military and the Environment, the Brownfields Internet Forum, and the Electronic Clearinghouse on Military Base Cleanup, Closure, and Conversion (the other Internet newsgroup/listserver) at the same addresses and numbers. (To subscribe to any CPEO publication, you may also use our online subscription form.)

Back issues of Military and the Environment, as well as other CPEO publications and information about our organization, are now available on the World Wide Web at


There is an enormous amount of information about hazardous waste remediation technologies available in print and on the World Wide Web, but it's hard to find what you need when you need it. To make it easier to visit the complex universe of cleanup technology, CPEO has planted the "Technology Tree" on our new website. Point your browser at, and the rest it easy.

There are two ways to climb the tree. You can define a problem and get a short list of technologies, innovative and conventional, designed to solve it. Or you can look up a technology, learn about it, and then check to see what other technologies might do the job.

The Tech Tree tries not to duplicate existing information on other web sites. Instead it summarizes each technology and provides links for users who want more comprehensive descriptions. The Tech Tree does not endorse or oppose specific technologies, but the summaries point out limitations and concerns about each technology.

The Tech Tree web site has 200 glossary terms, which are linked throughout the nearly 100 technology descriptions. The Resource Page contains web site links, points of contact for different federal agencies, and a directory of independent technical consultants.

This is a new approach, and as far as we're concerned at CPEO, it's still under development. We're looking for criticisms, suggestions, and corrections. If you use the Technology Tree to influence a cleanup decision, we'd like to hear about it.

The Technology Tree is sponsored by the Bay Area Defense Conversion Action Team (BADCAT) through the Bay Area Economic Forum.


U.S. EPA is taking comments, through the end of the year, on a proposed rule that would set standards for the remediation of lead-based paint in household dust and soil. Published in the June 3, 1998 Federal Register, the rule would implement section 403 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The proposed rule, as well as a number of supporting documents, may be found at EPA's website, as PDF files.

While the rule suggests that all property owners take action to control the environmental impact of lead-based paint in and around housing, it would directly apply to the lease and sale of property held by owners receiving Federal housing program assistance. Those include "State and city public housing authorities, owners of multifamily rental properties that receive project-based assistance, and owners of rental properties that lease units under HUD's tenant-based assistance program."

It would also apply to the sale of Federally owned housing built before 1960, including property being transferred at closing military bases. If other agencies -- such as state environmental regulators -- follow EPA's leadership, the standards in TSCA could eventually apply to a wide range of privately owned properties, as well.

In one of its fact sheets, EPA explains the need to control lead paint hazards: "While potentially harmful to individuals of all ages, lead exposure is especially harmful to children under six years of age. Young children have rapidly developing nervous systems which are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead. Children also tend to absorb lead more readily than adults. Excessive childhood lead exposure causes learning disabilities, lower intelligence, behavioral problems, stunted growth, permanent hearing and visual impairment, and other damage to the brain and nervous system. Lead hazards affect children in families of all income levels and in all regions of the country. Children in poor inner-city communities, however, are disproportionately affected."

Few people dispute the public health significance of lead paint exposure, but EPA has been under enormous pressure to water down its regulations. In particular, the armed services -- with their massive base closure liabilities -- are concerned about the millions of dollars they would be required to spend under TSCA mandate, while private property owners would face no such direct requirement, even if lead hazards on those properties pose a much greater threat to the health of children.

Many of the features of the proposed rule are widely acceptable; and environmental groups have developed detailed critiques of the loopholes in the rule. But there is one overriding controversy. Though EPA determined that an appropriate "level of concern" for lead paint in soil is 400 parts per million, it is proposing an action standard of 2,000 parts per million because it estimates that the cost of remediating the entire country to that standard would be prohibitively expensive.

That is, EPA proposes to allow children to live in areas where lead paint remains in soil at five times what might be the health-based standard based upon the aggregation of soil removal costs at all properties, whether or not the standard applies. There is no provision weighing the cost of remediating the lead against the health benefits on a site-by-site basis. Thus, tens of thousands of children will be exposed to excessive levels of lead paint each year even though cleanup at their homes or day-care centers may be cost effective.

Furthermore, in freezing the soil standard a 2,000 parts per million EPA in effect is discouraging the development and use of more cost effective technologies. Because EPA proposes to measure lead exposure by averaging samples across each affected property, it is also discouraging strategies that promote prompt action at the most dangerous, high-concentration "hot spots."

The statutory limits of TSCA and the absence of a national lead cleanup fund constrain EPA's ability to solve the lead paint problem in the TSCA 403 rule, but the proposed rule, in creating the false impression that a 2,000 parts per million standard would protect public health, undermines possible legislative action.

In response to growing criticism of the proposed rule, EPA has extended the written comment period and scheduled one public meeting. The meeting will be in San Francisco, Friday, December 4, from 9 am to 9 pm, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, 345 Stockton St.

Written comments should be submitted in triplicate to OPPT, Document Control Officer (7407), Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, Environmental Protection Agency, 401 M St., SW., Rm. G-099, East Tower, Washington, DC 20460, e-mailed to Each written comment must bear the docket control number OPPTS-62156D.

Bay Area environmental/environmental justice organizations, including ARC Ecology and Urban Habitat, are developing an alternative proposal and circulating a sign-on letter criticizing the proposed rule. For more information, contact CPEO.


Brownfields revitalization, with both environmental and economic goals, has always drawn bi-partisan support, particularly in the provinces. The Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Initiative, however, has often become ensnared in the political bickering over Superfund legislation or the management of the agency by Clinton appointees.

This year, the House Appropriations Committee voted to recommend severe restrictions on the Brownfields program, and the Senate proposed limits of its own, but by the time the dust settled the program had survived as originally proposed by the administration. Democratic supporters of the program threatened to bring key issues to a roll-call vote on the House floor, and to the surprise of many involved in Brownfields activity, they apparently they had enough Republican supporters to force the Appropriators to back down.

By a voice vote on Friday, July 17, the House accepted the Stokes-DeGette Amendment, authored by Diana DeGette, a first-term Representative from Colorado, and Louis Stokes, ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, deleting restrictive language from the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations bill.

Before the amendment was accepted, DeGette told the House, "This bill jeopardizes the EPA's brownfields program . . . in three ways: First of all, it prohibits any of these funds from being used by localities to set up revolving loan programs. Secondly, this bill provides only $75 million in funding, which is 17.4 percent below the President's budget request. Finally, this bill prohibits the funds from being used for research and community outreach, a vital component of the program, which furthers understanding of brownfields and gives communities the tools to further redevelopment.

"Our amendment remediates these three problems with the bill. It restores the important brownfields component of the legislation, which is so critical towards cleaning up environmental contamination in our inner-cities throughout this country and revitalizing these areas so that they can be economically beneficial to the entire community."

Following passage, Michael Oxley (R-Ohio), head of one of the subcommittees with jurisdiction over Superfund and Brownfields legislation, warned, "I do not want the EPA or anyone else to think that the current Superfund law authorizes the Agency to use brownfields money to capitalize revolving loan funds. Moreover, brownfields money may be used pursuant to section 311(c) of CERCLA to fund only, and I quote, 'Research with respect to the detection, assessment and evaluation of the effects on and risks to human health of hazardous substances and detection of hazardous substances in the environment....'

"The language of section 311(c) does not, I emphasize, does not, authorize the Agency to use brownfields money to fund conferences, seminars, meetings, workshops, or other activities that have nothing to do with actual research."

In response, DeGette defended the program: "I think it is a little inaccurate to say that there has been legal authority saying that it is not intended to be used for revolving funds and other purposes . . .. I think that to state that they have been using them for illegal purposes goes beyond what the Inspector General and GAO have, in fact, said."

The final language approved by both Houses of Congress not only upheld the Stokes-DeGette amendment, but it restored EPA's authority to establish a Brownfields revolving loan fund.

by Lenny Siegel

The fate of EPA'S Interim Guidance on "Title VI," which is under fire from many Brownfields development interests, is critical to the federal government's efforts to address environmental racism, in particular the disproportionate impact of environmental pollution upon communities of color.

Title VI is a key section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. EPA's Interim Guidance, issued in February, 1998, provides a framework for EPA's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to process Title VI complaints "alleging discriminatory effects resulting from the issuance of pollution control permits by state and local governmental agencies that receive EPA funding."

On the surface, EPA's Title VI guidance seems to be a straightforward implementation of the fundamental principles of environmental justice. However, critics argue that the guidance places a new, major obstacle in the path of brownfields development.

That is, anyone who proposes an activity requiring environmental permits in an area -- typically, an inner city -- with a high concentration of people of color must jump through a new, flaming environmental hoop. They must demonstrate that their proposal will not -- unless there is mitigation or justification -- contribute to the disparate impact of pollution on people of color. Even when project proponents can make such a case, the work required to convince EPA could be enormous.

Since Title VI consideration is likely to emerge at the tail end of a long planning, financing, and permitting process, the process -- as currently envisioned -- creates significant financial uncertainty. Developers and manufacturers seeking to locate industrial operations may in many cases simply eschew inner cities and other areas with large non-white populations, investing instead in legally safer or at least more certain greenfields areas. That is, policies designed to enhance run-down neighborhoods could actually discourage otherwise viable projects.

However, testimony from residents of many of those communities -- at the 1995 NEJAC (National Environmental Justice Advisory Council) Brownfields Dialogues and elsewhere -- suggests strongly that building facilities that are likely to generate pollution in mixed-use inner city neighborhoods is usually a bad idea. In fact, residents have rejected the notion of only "cleaning up to industrial standards" if that means perpetuation of undesirable land uses. The Title VI program, if reasonably implemented, may hinder certain types of development, but in these cases that's exactly what the communities want and need.

On the other hand, the Title VI process itself may also discourage important projects that would not contribute to disparate impact either because they would not generate appreciable pollution or because the area is not already subject to undesirable factories and other activities. That is, the project would probably be approved, but because it is proposed for a community of color, developers are afraid that it won't be, or simply don't want to go through the extra paperwork of demonstrating to the permitting agencies that it should be.

The problem, as I see it, lies not with Title VI and the guidance, but with the standard permitting or environmental impact assessment process. In most cases, a project proponent has to do market studies, find property, line up financing, and design the project before it even seeks an environmental permit. That is, the sponsors -- often including local redevelopment agencies as well as the private sector -- expend large amounts of time, energy, and money before they know whether they can build. While they may know their own business and the particular piece of property well, they haven't a clue whether the neighbors will consider the project an exacerbation of disparate environmental impact.

The solution, I believe, lies in the preparation of "Community Impact Statements" designed to compile and analyze the environmental load on a community independent of any particular project proposal. I envision Community Impact Statements that differ from the conventional environmental impact study model in two regards.

First, they would examine the universe of environmental hazards in a community, rather than the incremental impact of an individual project. This would not only make it easier to identify cumulative and synergistic impacts, but it would give communities the tools they need earlier in the siting process. That is, study could take place before a company or agency had invested significant time and energy putting together a proposal that was ready for environmental review.

Second, because the study would take place independent of particular project proposals, it would be easier to insist that they be community-based. That is, members of the affected communities would directly determine the scope and findings of the study, in consultation with appropriate technical experts and legal authorities. For example, the residents would determine whether noise, visual blight, and safety hazards (such as auto traffic) are key environmental issues.

It's important to go beyond the quantitative measurement of hazards. Are they persistent? Are they reversible? Are people exposed voluntarily or involuntarily? In what way do residents or others reap economic or cultural benefits from the activity creating the hazard? The applicability and actual implementation of regulatory authorities to each hazard should be noted.

CISs should prove to be valuable resources for siting and permitting decisions. While they obviously could provide ammunition to opponents of projects, they should also help communities overwhelmed by blight to target their concern where it belongs. In some cases, community-based studies may show that perceived threats are merely that.

CISs should be designed broadly enough to serve other purposes. For example, they could be used to consider requests for relocation. They could be used to guide government agencies in the allocation of resources for environmental protection. On the broadest level, they could serve as a foundation for evaluating the level of environmental justice/injustice in a community. Often, that's exactly what industry decision-makers -- not just activists and regulators -- want to know.