Monday, July 18, 2016

A word about Brownfields cleanups in Rochester, NY

Whenever you hear businesses complain about the financial burdens of environmental regulations, think of Brownfields. Brownfields are abandoned sites, usually in urban locations, that are tainted by either real or perceived contamination, making them undesirable for private redevelopment efforts. Not to mention, Brownfields (like Love Canal) are public health scourges.

Brownfields aren’t an indispensable part of doing business; Brownfields happen when you aren’t conducting a business properly.

Ironically, the City of Rochester characterizes the cleanup of Brownfields as an opportunity, which is true I suppose if you view cleaning up urban areas unfit for human habitation as job creators. Even the EPA frames their Brownfields Program this way: “…creates many benefits for local communities”.

If you are able to glean the necessary funds to provide these jobs from the state or (even better) from the actual businesses that created these environmental disasters, then I’m sure there are jobs to be had. I get the part about making the best of a bad situation but I hope by describing the cleanup of Brownfields as opportunities we don’t put ourselves in the absurd position of encouraging Brownfields so folks can get jobs. (I know, as our present economics are practiced, this toxic waste circle-jerk would make sense, but in the real world dumping and leaving toxic waste behind never, ever makes sense.)

Cleaning up Brownfields “especially those in areas characterized by high poverty, unemployment or other indicators of community distress” is critical in preparing for Climate Change.

NEWS RELEASE - EPA AWARDS ROCHESTER $200,000 FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CLEANUP Mayor Lovely A. Warren announced today that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded the City of Rochester $200,000 in supplemental funding for the City’s Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund. The funding will be used for cleanup and re-use efforts at contaminated manufacturing sites, especially those in areas characterized by high poverty, unemployment or other indicators of community distress.  “These funds will advance our efforts to help city neighborhoods that have suffered from neglect and disinvestment,” said Mayor Warren. “Cleaning up these contaminated properties in our most challenged neighborhoods is critical to our efforts to create more jobs, safer more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities in our schools. (July 13, 2016) City of Rochester, NY

Many of our Brownfields exist within poverty areas so when more extreme weather comes with Climate Change it is more likely that toxic leaching due to frequent, heavy flooding that will put more pressure on the public health in areas least prepared for these increased environmental hazards. Climate justice demands that Brownfields in poor areas get cleaned up immediately.  

I don’t know how many Brownfields there are in Rochester, Monroe County, or New York State—or the world for that matter. I don’t know how a Brownfield gets cleaned up in such a way that the contaminated area is entirely free to operate again as a healthy component of any ecosystem. I don’t know the best way to fund the cleanup of Brownfields so that the businesses who get the public money for cleaning up Brownfields use these funds or tax breaks for the intended purpose.

I do know that Brownfields are unacceptable no matter how they are characterized. And, I know that to prepare best so we can adapt to Climate Change, we need to get these damned places cleaned up.

Time passes. 

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