New York Funds Brownfields, Superfund Remediation

ALBANY, New York, September 23, 2003 (ENS) - New York legislators have approved a measure that will refinance and reform the state's Superfund and brownfields programs. New York Governor George Pataki said the new law, passed last week, will help clean thousands of contaminated properties across New York and will encourage new investment and redevelopment that will revitalize local economies.

Governor Pataki said, "By working together we have set in motion a policy to reverse lost years of action that have doomed localities to unremediated contamination and further public exposure to numerous toxic pollutants. This program provides clear, achievable standards that will encourage redevelopment and stimulate both environmental and economic benefits and growth."


New York Governor George Pataki (Photo courtesy N.Y. Quality Communities Clearinghouse)
The measure creates a new State Brownfields Program to encourage private investment through liability reform, tax incentives, and a predictable process for cleaning up and redeveloping brownfields, and implements liability reform to the State Superfund Program and Oil Spill Program.

Funded by $200 million from the 1996 Clean Water/ Clean Air Bond Act, the legislation improves the Brownfields Program by increasing the state grant to municipalities from 75 percent of eligible costs to 90 percent of eligible costs, and it permits municipalities to leverage other funds to pay their share. More than $27 million has been committed to 116 projects in 62 communities across New York.

The legislation appropriates $168 million to be financed with a combination of bond funds, industry fees, General Fund dollars and other sources. Of that total, $120 million that will be made available on an annual basis for the State Superfund Program and financed with bonds issued by the Environmental Facilities Corporation.

State debt service costs will be offset by industry fees, which will also finance $33 million for the Oil Spill Program.

Fifteen million dollars will fund a new Brownfield Opportunity Areas planning program, cover staffing for the new programs, technical assistance grants to community based organizations to participate in the Superfund and voluntary cleanup programs, and the development of a Geographic Information System on the state's groundwater resources.

The new legislation allows for the cleanup of hazardous substance sites, in addition to hazardous waste sites, which have been excluded from the state's Superfund program for 20 years. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has identified 274 hazardous substance sites that may pose a significant threat to public health and the environment that will now be addressed through the Superfund program.

Four soil cleanup tracks will be established:

Liability relief is provided to municipalities, lenders, and innocent third parties under the Superfund Program, while the legislation continues to hold the polluter responsible for the cleanup. A new affirmative defense will provide liability relief to innocent parties under the Oil Spill Program.

Environmentalists and politicians alike praised the new measures. John Adams, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said, "This legislation closes a significant gap in the state's environmental law and puts in place one of the more ambitious brownfield programs in the country."

"NRDC and our colleagues in the environmental community had to make some very difficult choices," said Adams. "After all the give and take, we have an outcome, if properly implemented, that will be protective of public health while also encouraging the clean up and development of brownfield sites."

Sarah Meyland, director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, "We congratulate the governor and the legislative leaders Senator Carl Marcellino and Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli in finally bringing together all the forces to create a new law that will clean up toxic sites and rejuvenate blighted areas and help protect the environment in the future. In particular, we are very pleased with the groundwater protection components of this new law."


Marathon Battery Superfund site in Cold Spring, New York. The U.S. EPA and the state of New York cleaned up the mess left from years of dumping wastewater into the Hudson River and nearby marshes. (Photo courtesy EPA)
Senator Carl Marcellino, who chairs the New York State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "This bill will put brownfields back on the tax rolls and make them assets rather than letting them eat away at the heart of our cities, towns and villages like cancer."

The agreement "will provide tremendous benefits for generations to come," said Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli. "New York will now have a framework to remediate contaminated sites retaining the nation's most protective cleanup standards, while providing developers, municipalities and community based organizations with a predictable process, financial incentives and liability relief."

The legislation establishes a comprehensive package of tax credits with an estimated annual value of $135 million to offset costs associated with real property taxes, site preparation, water treatment expenses, and property improvements.

Under the package, tax credits increase for developers who voluntarily remediate a site to unrestricted use standards. The tax credit package also includes an innovative environmental insurance credit that will help to offset the costs developers might incur to purchase such policies.

Marcia Bystryn, executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters called the legislation "a significant victory" for the environment. "Polluted and abandoned sites have been scarring our communities for too long. Now we can start the work of cleaning up these sites and returning many of New Yorks communities to environmental and economic health."

Since 1986, the New York State Superfund has provided $1.2 billion for cleanup of more than 800 contaminated sites across New York state. However, the state Superfund funded by the 1986 Environmental Quality Bond Act was fully allocated as of March 31, 2001. The DEC estimates that at least an additional 800 Superfund sites are still in need of investigation or remediation.