March, 2001
Citizens' Report on Brownfields
The Center for Public Environmental Oversight & the Pacific Studies Center Volume III, Number 2


Thursday, February 15, 2001, ranking Republicans and Democrats on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reintroduced the bipartisan Brownfields Bill that gained solid majority support, but was never allowed to the floor for a vote, last year. The bill, virtually identical to last year's S. 2700, is now known as S. 350, the "Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act of 2001."

Republicans Bob Smith (NH) and Lincoln Chafee (RI), two of the four original co-sponsors of S. 2700 last year, are being joined by Democrats Harry Reid (NV) and Barbara Boxer (CA). Reid and Boxer are the new ranking Democrats on the full Committee and its Superfund subcommittee, respectively.

At a February 27 subcommittee hearing on the bill, it garnered widespread support, including the endorsement of the Bush Administration. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman told the subcommittee, "I am pleased to report that the Administration supports S. 350. As we continue a more thorough review of the legislation, we would appreciate the opportunity to offer refinements that would be consistent with the President's principles and budget. I look forward to working with all members of this Committee to move this important legislation to the Senate floor as soon as possible."

Whitman added, "Brownfields cleanup is an important urban redevelopment tool that provides an alternative to development of greenfields. The Administration believes that brownfields legislation is important enough to be considered independently from other statutory reform efforts, such as Superfund. I know that some members of this Committee are interested in reforming Superfund and I am committed to working with them, but I would urge that Superfund reform issues not hold up passage of S. 350. As you may know, President Bush is committed to strengthen state and local brownfields programs based on the principles which he put forth during last fall's campaign:"

The following is an official summary of S. 350, as introduced by the four Senators:

  • Provides critically needed funds to assess and clean up abandoned and underutilized brownfield sites, which will create jobs, increase tax revenues, preserve and create open space and parks;
  • Provides legal protections for innocent parties, such as contiguous property owners, prospective purchasers, and innocent landowners;
  • Provides for funding and enhancement of state cleanup programs, including limits where appropriate on enforcement by the federal government at sites cleaned up under a State response program. Provides a balance of certainty for prospective purchasers, developers and others while ensuring protection of the public health.
  • Creates a public record of brownfield sites and enhances community involvement in site cleanup and reuse.
  • Provides for deferral of listing sites on the National Priorities List if the state is taking action at the site.


Authorizes $150 million per year, for fiscal years 2002-2006, for grants to local governments, States and Indian tribes to inventory, assess and cleanup contaminated brownfield sites, either through establishing a Revolving Loan Fund or, in some circumstances, by giving a grant. Provides criteria to be used in awarding these funds, including the extent to which the money will protect human health, spur redevelopment and create jobs, preserve open space and parks, and represent a fair distribution of money between urban and rural areas


Contiguous Property Owners-Generally provides Superfund liability relief for innocent persons who own property that is contaminated solely due to a release from another property, so long as the person did not cause or contribute to the release, and provides cooperation and access for the cleanup.

Prospective Purchasers-Generally provides Superfund liability relief for innocent future buyers of brownfields who are not responsible for contam-ination and do not impede the cleanup of the site, make all appropriate inquiry prior to purchase, exercise appropriate care with respect to hazardous substances, and provide cooperation and access to persons cleaning up the site. The bill also provides for "windfall liens" at sites where the government pays for the cleanup, and the fair market value was enhanced by that effort.

Innocent Landowners-Clarifies relief from Superfund liability for landowners who had no reason to know of contamination at the time of purchase, despite having made all appropriate inquiry into prior ownership and use of the facility. Provides certainty to parties by clarifying what needs to be done to satisfy the "appropriate inquiry" requirement in the current statute.

Authorizes $50 million per year in fiscal years 2002-2006 for grants to states and Indian tribes to establish and enhance their cleanup programs, when the programs meet or are making progress toward meeting general criteria, such as protection of human health and providing public involvement.

Provides deference to state programs and provides additional "certainty" to persons who conduct cleanups under state programs by placing restrictions on the authority of the Administrator to take an enforcement action under the federal Superfund law, while preserving the President's ability to address serious problems.

Provides for states to keep a public record of sites, in order for the sites in the state program to be eligible for the bar on federal enforcement. This record will provide the public with critical information about the sites in their neighborhoods.

Provides a deferral for listing sites on the federal Superfund list if the site is being adequately handled by the state program.


December 9, 2000
by Lenny Siegel, CPEO

ONE/CHANE (Organized North Easterners and Clay Hill and North End, Inc.) is a non-profit, membership-based community organization dedi-cated to the revitalization of two neighborhoods in northern Hartford, Connecticut. Containing about 22,000 of the city's 140,000 people, the North East and Clay Hill areas are home to a predomi-nantly African-American and Latino (largely Puerto Rican) low and moderate income community. Since its formation in 1978, ONE/CHANE has been down in the trenches, rehabilitating residential buildings and promoting home-ownership for low income residents. ONE/CHANE works closely with local churches and other local community-based organizations.

Recently, it has gained recognition for its settlement, almost finalized, of an environmental civil rights suit that it filed again the semi-public Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA), operator of the North Meadows Landfill in north Hartford. Community members for years complained about the smell and perceived health ef-fects from the open landfill, and ONE/CHANE used Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to argue that people of color were disproportionately impacted by the operation of the landfill, which serves not only Hartford but nearly 70 suburban communi-ties. Reportedly, it even receives garbage from New York City. ONE/CHANE initially opposed CRRA's proposal to increase the capacity of the landfill by raising the height by 30 feet. The additional capacity would not only have extended facility's ability to receive municipal waste, but it would have allowed it to accept soil from a major downtown brownfields project.

ONE/CHANE made essentially two demands upon CRRA. First, it insisted upon a better cap, leachate containment, and monitoring of contami-nation. CRRA spent more than $13 million on the improvements, and it sponsored five sets of sampling, costing about a half million, required by ONE/CHANE to assure the community that the improvements were protective. Second, the organization asked for grants, to be apportioned between ONE/CHANE and the city of Hartford, for community improvement projects.

As it awaits the infusion of funds, ONE/CHANE is already gaining momentum. It is completing a series of housing rehab projects, and it is managing, in partnership with a local church, the construction of the major new, state-of-the-art Mt. Olive Child Development Center. ONE/CHANE invited CPEO to Hartford to run a Community Impact Statement (CIS) focus group to assist the organization in the development of its new strategic plan. CPEO conducted the workshop on Saturday, December 9, 2000, at ONE/CHANE's offices in North Hartford.

The workshop was attended by about 20 ONE/CHANE board members, staff, and block captains. These are community volunteers who meet regularly and take actions to improve and em-power their communities. Their participation, most of the day on a weekend in December, under-scored the grassroots strength of the organization.

CPEO's Community Impact Statement exercise is distinguished from typical environmental impact analyses by three characteristics: 1) In the CIS, representatives of the affected community, not project proponents or government officials, judge the impact; 2) The analysis is independent of any proposed project or activity; and 3) community rep-resentatives define the scope of the exercise-defining "environmental" independent of governmentally imposed categories.

Based on our October 28, 2000 focus group in Gary, Indiana, we reduced the structure of this ex-ercise. We asked participants, as they introduced themselves, to list "environmental" issues in their community. Later we asked them to describe who or what was responsible for the problems, as well as who might be in a position to correct the prob-lems. Perhaps because the participants are engaged in ongoing community organizing, they barely needed prompting. That is, they started discussing the "who" and "what" even as they listed issues.

Once we completed the initial introductions, we compiled a list of the issues raised on a flip chart. This is a transcription of the flip chart.

  • Drug Selling
  • Lack of physical policing
  • Abandoned housing
  • Crazy Drivers
  • Abandoned and contaminated lots and cars
  • Rat Control
  • Proctor Silex site
  • Asthma, especially childhood
  • Lead paint, Asbestos, UST
  • Well lit streets
  • Involvement with city services
  • Home robberies
  • Economic development
  • Collapsed educational system and high school dropouts
  • AIDS adult and teens
  • Rehab Proactive and Preventative measures for drugs
  • Youth development
  • Utilize Parks

    We then discussed in detail what appeared to be the five most significant sets of issues: Drug dealing, Property abandonment, Inadequate police protection, Toxic Contamination, and Dangerous Traffic. Though we did not specifically address all of the issues on the list, the discussion delved into philosophical issues that appeared to be relevant to the full scope of community concerns.

    We drew four key lessons from the exercise. In fact, they jumped out at us.

    1. The local environment, as it impacts the people of North Hartford, is not confined to those issues regulated by US EPA or the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. The community is concerned about health risks from the landfill, a newly declared Superfund site-dioxin contamination within their community-leaking underground storage tanks, brownfields such as former auto repair shops and an old car-wash facility, lead paint, asbestos, and air pollution. But at first participants stressed other issues, such as drug dealing, housing abandonment, and the lack of effective police protection.

    2. As we talked, it became clear that "environmental" and social problems were inseparable features of the same blight. In fact, as residents described abandoned housing, abandoned cars, abandoned underground storage tanks, etc., it became clear that north Hartford is an abandoned community. While a public-private partnership is pouring a billion dollars into a downtown redevelopment project, ONE/CHANE goes begging for money a few hundred thousand dollars at a time.

    3. Participants in the exercise disagreed among themselves about the degree to which members of the community were responsible for their own problems. Some argued that parents should supervise their drug-culture-oriented teenagers and that neighbors should better watch for burglaries and other crimes. Children, some thought, should be taught better how to safely cross streets, to reduce the large number of children struck by automobiles.

    Others, however, blamed the city government for not adequately enforcing laws and providing services. They argued for political advocacy. Some pointed out that Connecticut currently has no counties. This makes it difficult for central cities, such as Hartford, to benefit from the suburban tax base, even though they provide important services for surrounding communities.

    And it was apparent that state and federal envi-ronmental regulation-pertaining to the landfill and Superfund site, for example, should also play an important role. Returning more environmental authority to the state-or to local governments-would not necessarily work to benefit the residents of north Hartford.

    4. ONE/CHANE leaders stressed that it was impossible to solve the community's problems one at a time. The organization has recently taken over a rehabilitated housing co-op that another group had successfully developed. However, the other group had in essence left the residents to manage the complex themselves, with inadequate training and support. Most of the residents moved out, and one remaining, enterprising resident "rented" units to new residents, pocketing the income for three years before leaving the state. To recover, the community needs not only to rebuild, but to educate and clean itself up.

    When CPEO concluded its portion of the focus group, ONE/CHANE's executive director, Larry Charles summed up the groups past projects, current projects, and anticipated activities. As participants discussed the group's direction, it was clear that its combination of bootstrap projects and hard-nosed negotiations with external agencies serves the community well. Perhaps, as Larry Charles suggested, it will take successively larger and more imaginative projects to "turn the community around."

    But it's also quite possible that the work of ONE/CHANE, local churches, Habitat for Humanity, and other organizations are similar to the high-school chemistry technique of titration. They bring progress to the community, one drop at a time. At some point, their successes will cause the liquid to change colors. Just as problems such as contamination and drug trafficking promote abandonment, driving out community members who might be able to help solve those problems, solving problems makes it possible for people to stay or return to take on more symptoms of blight. Clearly ONE/CHANE does more than identify problems. It empowers the community and gives it hope.

    This is not to say, however, that neighborhoods on their own can solve society-wide problems such as de-industialization and the marginal-ization of inner city youth. However, in taking back their community, house by house, they can easily help identify the larger issues that must be resolved at a broader level.