December 08, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Napolitano Statements from the Hearing on Environmental Justice in the Revitalization and Reuse of Contaminated Properties


Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Promoting Economic and Community Redevelopment and Environmental Justice in the Revitalization and Reuse of Contaminated Properties.”

Videos of opening statements from Chairs DeFazio and Napolitano are here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Madam Chair, for calling today’s hearing and for highlighting the critical investments in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

I am proud of this committee’s hard work in pulling together the single largest infrastructure investment in our nation’s history. 

The bipartisan Jobs Act provides once-in-a-lifetime investment that will modernize our roads, bridges, rail, transit, ports, and airports, as well as our critical water and wastewater systems. 

The Jobs Act will have a very real and positive impact on every American—from decreasing the average amount of time required to get to work or school or the grocery store, to expanding access to rail and mass transit options for both urban and rural areas, to addressing the existential threat that climate change poses on every citizen of this planet.

There is a lot to celebrate in the Jobs Act for programs within the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee’s purview.

To start, the Jobs Act is the first ever reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program in its 34-year history. 

That feat alone should be big news, but it gets better because the Jobs Act also actually provides over $12.7 billion in new wastewater infrastructure funding over the next five years to states and municipalities. This historic level of funding will directly help communities—large and small—address the backlog of wastewater infrastructure upgrades which our mayors and our constituents have told us are critically needed.

Even better, about half of this funding will be provided in the form of grants—meaning that communities will finally be able to make these critical upgrades but not saddle households with additional debt or looming rate increases. 

And this investment will also be carried out with an eye towards minimizing or mitigating any impacts on climate change—including investment by utilities to recapture and reuse greenhouse gasses such as methane—in order to protect our environment as well as reduce the long-term operational costs of the wastewater treatment plant. 

The water infrastructure funding in the Jobs Act is a no-brainer, win-win outcome for our constituents and our environment. And, because the National Utility Contractors Association estimates that every $1 billion in SRF funding produces 28,000 new jobs, this would mean roughly 350,000 new jobs to directly benefit the working men and women who too often are forgotten here in Washington.

Today’s hearing is focused on EPA’s brownfields and Superfund programs—two programs created to clean up legacy toxic contamination that scars our communities with blighted or underutilized properties and threatens the health of our neighborhoods and our environment.

However, the Jobs Act has several wins for brownfields and Superfund as well—providing billions for both programs to finally address the backlog of remediation projects throughout the country—a backlog that results in EPA being able to fund only about 1 in 4 local brownfields cleanup project applications annually.

This backlog of projects is the result of chronic underfunding of the brownfields program, which is extremely popular with local mayors and communities for the multiple benefits this program can produce.

The EPA states that every federal dollar invested in a brownfields assessment or cleanup leverages over $20 in private sector investment, and every $100,000 in EPA brownfields funds expended leverages around 10.3 jobs.

This means that the $1.5 billion in brownfields investment contained in the Jobs Act can reasonably be expected to generate approximately $30 billion in additional private sector investment in brownfields properties—and create over 150,000 new jobs associated with the reuse of these properties.

Similarly, for EPA’s Superfund program, the Jobs Act, when combined with the Build Back Better Act, will provide over $30 billion in additional remediation funds and finally restore the “polluter pays” principle for Superfund cleanup that was allowed to languish under Republican control.

The Superfund program was enacted with the premise that polluters should be required to pay for the cleanup of their messes; however, over the years, the program shifted the costs of cleanup to American taxpayers—letting polluters off the hook and slowing down Superfund cleanups as annual funding for the program was reduced.

The Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act reverse this trend and will bring welcome relief to communities across the nation who have been forced to wait in line for the trickle of scarce cleanup funds.

These bills will also save taxpayers money by again putting the burden to pay for Superfund cleanups back where it belongs—with the polluters who caused these toxic sites in the first place.

Madam Chair, the Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act are filled with programs that will directly benefit the health, safety, and quality of life of American families. And, just looking at the two programs I have discussed this morning—the Clean Water and brownfields program—this investment will create close to 1 million new jobs.

Today’s hearing will highlight some of these critical investments, as well as help to ensure that these investments benefit all communities—rural and urban, tribal and economically-disadvantaged—regardless of where they are located.

I welcome the witnesses here today and yield back the balance of my time.

Chair Napolitano:

These are historic times in Congress. 

Just a few weeks ago, President Biden signed into law the single largest investment in our nation’s infrastructure ever.  The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (or Jobs Act) provides once-in-a-lifetime investment that will modernize our roads, bridges, transit, ports and airports, as well as our critical water and wastewater systems. 

We all know the neglect that our critical infrastructure has faced over the years – due to short sighted budget reductions under the previous administration or through lack of available resources from our state and local partners. However, that continued neglect is now over – and thanks to the courage of members on both sides of the aisle – infrastructure investment help is now on the way. 

This is especially true for the critical infrastructure under the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. 

The Jobs Act provides over $12.7 billion in critical infrastructure assistance to States and local communities to rebuild their crumbling wastewater systems—and reauthorizes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program for the first time in its 34-year history! 

Just as important, more than half of this assistance is provided as grants—responding to the direct testimony of rural, small, and economically-disadvantaged communities that testified before this Subcommittee on their struggles to afford critical wastewater upgrades.   

The Jobs Act also provides the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with an additional $17.1 billion to carry out crucial construction and operation and maintenance activities on critical water resources development projects throughout the nation.

This committee, on a bipartisan basis, has now completed work on four water resources development acts in a row—and will begin work on the fifth early next year. However, all of the projects authorized in WRDAs need appropriated funds for communities to realize the full navigation, flood control, and environmental benefits these projects provide. The $17.1 billion in the Jobs Act will quickly bring many of these critical water resources projects into reality. 

Finally, and central to the theme of today’s hearing, passage of the Jobs Act – when combined with the Build Back Better Act—provides BILLIONS to clean up the nation’s most toxic hazardous waste dumps—and to make sure polluters pay to clean up their mess.   

First, the Jobs Act provides a total of $1.5 billion to assess and remediate our nation’s brownfields—those underutilized sites in big cities and small towns where contamination or the threat of contamination limits full use of these properties.

This is the most significant investment in federal brownfields cleanup funding in its 20-year history and will finally allow for the redevelopment of properties that have languished for years simply waiting for critical cleanup funds. 

Second, and just as important, the Jobs Act, when combined with the Build Back Better Act, will provide an ADDITIONAL $30 BILLION to clean up America’s most contaminated Superfund sites – finally bringing relief to urban and rural neighborhoods that have had to live with these legacy toxic waste dumps for decades.

And these combined bills will finally restore the “polluter pays” concept of Superfund cleanup – making sure that polluters, not taxpayers, pay the cost of cleaning up toxic contamination. 

I am proud to support these historic investments in brownfields and Superfund cleanups, which will rejuvenate neighborhoods, will protect the health of our families, our neighborhoods, and our environment, and will start to undo the toxic legacy of the past. 

However, now that these funds are available, it is equally critical that these investments benefit families and neighborhoods of all economic means – in rural and urban areas, in minority and tribal communities, and in every geographic area of the country. 

That is the focus of today’s hearing—listening to stakeholders on how we can improve upon the EPA’s brownfields program. 

This program has, by most accounts, been successful in redeveloping many un-utilized or under-utilized brownfields sites; however, if you dig a little deeper, there are questions about whether all communities have benefited from this critical redevelopment investment and whether this investment has actually benefited those who have had to suffer with legacy contamination for decades. 

Today, we will hear from stakeholders representing an array of viewpoints on the successes of the brownfields program – and should hear who has benefitted and who may have been left behind.   

As we stand on the cusp of significant increases in brownfields and Superfund cleanup investment, it is critical that all of these voices be heard.

We need to ensure that the historic funds in the Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act are used to help all communities realize a future without toxic contamination, and to ensure that these funds benefit all communities – both rural and urban – especially those that have been overlooked or passed over for critical reinvestment funds in the past. 

At this time, I am pleased to yield to my colleague, the Ranking Member of our subcommittee, Mr. Rouzer, for any thoughts he may have.