We’ve all heard the saying, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This cliché has merit. If we don’t learn from our past mistakes, we’re likely to keep making them. This is true in many aspects of life, but particularly when it comes to the environment.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected 172 communities to receive nearly $57 million in funds for brownfield site assessments and cleanup. A brownfield is a property contaminated with pollutants or hazardous substances, often stemming from commercial or industrial activities. EPA estimates there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. The Brownfields Program, created in 1995, is an EPA-led effort to clean up these sites. Projects are funded through grants for site assessments, cleanup and environmental job training.
As of May 2017, EPA estimates it has leveraged more than 124,000 jobs and provided $24 billion in public and private funding to remediate brownfields. It also says finished cleanup activities can raise nearby property values anywhere from 5% to 15.2%.
As I write this, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has just announced a plan to prioritize cleanup of the nation’s Superfund sites, which generally have more severe contamination than brownfields. Although the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget includes a 30% cut to Superfund funding, in an interview with Fox News, Pruitt said, “It’s not a matter of money. It’s a matter of leadership and attitude and management.”
Pollutant cleanup, job creation and quality of life improvements are all great benefits of these initiatives. It’s also promising that the federal government is acknowledging the contamination and is making an effort to do something about it. But these efforts are fruitless if there is not a marked effort to prevent these issues from occurring again.
As the federal government entertains the idea of cutting funding and eliminating environmental regulations, it would be wise to look at history to see some of the good regulations have done. Managing the relationship between economic interests and regulations can be a balancing act, but ultimately these regulations exist to protect public health and the environment and can prevent costly cleanup down the line.
This special issue illustrates the unique challenges associated with residential, commercial and industrial sites. Initiatives are being taken within the water industry to mitigate these challenges, including contamination prevention and cleanup efforts.