Study Calls for Feds to Get out of the Brownfields Business

Study Calls for Feds to Get out of the Brownfields Business

State Programs Yield Success, Federal Programs Produce Dismal Track Record
July 27, 2000

Washington, D.C., July 27, 2000 – “The EPA should get out of the business of brownfield cleanup and leave it to the states,” argues Dana Joel Gattuso in a recently released Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) report.  In Revitalizing Urban America: Cleaning Up the Brownfields, Gattuso illustrates that states have “proven to be the champions of brownfield remediation and re-use,” while the federal  government’s track record has proven “dismal.”

 <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Brownfields are generally defined as former industrial sites that parties will not redevelop because they fear liability for potential contamination.  Under the federal Superfund law and many state laws, anyone remotely connected to a contaminated waste site – lenders, waste transporters, waste generators, property owners – can become liable for millions of dollars in cleanup costs regardless of actual guilt.  Accordingly, few are willing to clean and restore these sites.


The states have begun to address this problem.  States first reformed their Superfund laws to allow more flexible standards – producing 40,000 site cleanups according to one estimate.  In recent years, states have begun passing brownfield laws that provide liability relief to parties that voluntarily clean sites as well as flexible cleanup standards and financial incentives.  “In total,” says Gattuso, “46 states operate some form of voluntary brownfield cleanup program.”  As a result, states have cleaned tens of thousands of brownfield sites. 


In contrast, federal Superfund and brownfield programs leave much to be desired.  “The EPA has provided a valuable lesson in what not to do,” Gattuso remarks.  Gattuso documents cases of fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of several federal brownfield programs.  In addition, she notes that the federal Superfund law still applies to all sites – even those cleaned under state law.  Accordingly, federal liability limits the benefits of state programs by scaring off some developers because they fear liability costs under federal law, even though states provide liability relief from their laws.


“The best aid Washington can provide to the states and localities is to de-link brownfield requirements from the failed Superfund program and then get out of the business of brownfields altogether, enabling the states to continue handling these sites without the straightjacket of federal restrictions,” Gattuso concludes.



Copies of the study are available at or by calling 202-331-1010.  CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.  For more information, please contact Emily McGee, director of media relations, at 202-331-1010, ext. 209 or