McMorris Rodgers, Whitman County Commissioner Testify on Eastern Washington Brownfield Projects

Washington, D.C. (February 15, 2022) – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) delivered remarks in today’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Brownfields” program.

Excerpts and highlights from her prepared remarks:

THE HOPE FOR BROWNFIELDS
“A ‘brownfield’ is an abandoned or underutilized property with known or suspected contamination, which discourages development and buyers. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases local tax bases, creates jobs, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off undeveloped, open land, and improves and protects the environment.

“Cities and towns across the United States have seen positive changes in their communities as a result of the Brownfields program … [including] University District in Spokane, Washington.

“EPA’s Brownfields program, first authorized over two decades ago, took aim at addressing the challenges preventing these sites from receiving the interest necessary to foster clean up and redevelopment. Specifically, the law instituted defenses to liability for innocent landowners and prospective purchasers who comply with statutory requirements.”

SUCCESSES OF THE BROWNFIELDS PROGRAM
“The Brownfields law also authorized grants to encourage environmental assessment and cleanup of brownfield sites. The law has been hugely successful. It removed barriers to addressing environmental contamination. It issued 3,200 grants for pollution assessment and cleanup, removed abandoned and blighted properties, and restored community opportunities.

“In fact, the City of Spokane, Washington was one of many beneficiaries of that bill. The numbers are noteworthy.

“According to EPA, as of the beginning of the current fiscal year, this program has contributed to more than 34,000 properties being assessed for environmental contamination, aided the cleanup of 2,261 properties, leveraged more than 180,000 jobs and nearly $35 billion in investment, returned more than 9,000 properties back to communities for reuse, and readied more than 144,000 acres for anticipated reuse.

“The funding authorizations from the 2018 law expire at the end of the next fiscal year.”

BIPARTISAN CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT
“While it’s unfortunate the EPA is not a witness today to answer questions about a program it has operated for 21 years, I hope the Committee will undertake aggressive, bipartisan oversight of this program and the $1.5 billion provided to EPA under the Senate Infrastructure Law. 

“Prior to EPA testifying on any legislation – which is essential – we need to take important steps to meaningfully understand the program as part of our ‘run up’ to reauthorization.

“I am pleased that our witness panel has the experience and perspectives on this subject that it does. I want to extend a special welcome to Whitman County, Washington Commissioner Michael Largent who is joining us on behalf of the National Association of Counties. Whitman County is in my district, and I look forward to hearing what Mike will share with us today.”

Whitman County Commissioner Michael Largent also testified before the committee on behalf of the National Association of Counties. Highlights and excerpts from his exchange with Leader Rodgers:

CMR: “Without the Brownfields grant, would Whitman County – and counties like it – be able to afford assessments and cleanup of contaminated sites or attract private parties, like those in Pullman and Palouse?”

Largent: “From a county’s perspective – and for our small towns – it’s a no. We would not be able to afford it. We struggle with paying our employees a livable wage. We don’t do new programs. We can’t pick up new initiatives. Without this money from the EPA, it would not have happened.”

CMR: What would be the impact on the community without this grant? Since the Palouse cleanup, what has it done for the local economy, and how has it changed the community?

Largent: “For the City of Palouse … without the grant funding from the EPA for this Brownfields remediation, one-sixth of that downtown would be unavailable for economic development. Without EPA money, the City of Pullman, Washington State University, and the Port of Whitman would not be able to develop any particular project there. While Whitman County may not have the most amount of Brownfields … I would say its impact is huge.”

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