Key Toxic Clean Up Program Misses the Mark
Lawmakers & Advocates Urge Reform as Program Sunset Approaches
Albany – The State of New York has cut checks in excess of $1.14 billion dollars to fund the primary vehicle for cleaning up dangerous, contaminated brownfields statewide, a new analysis by Environmental Advocates of New York has found. And that price tag will continue to grow significantly as 321 more sites are currently enrolled in the program creating a multi-billion dollar public liability.
Lawmakers and advocates are seeking to enact fundamental reforms to the program ahead of its scheduled sunset in 2015. In addition to the exorbitant cost, the existing brownfields program:
- Bases credit totals on the value of the property built post-cleanup, favoring high-cost communities like Midtown Manhattan; and,
- Disadvantages where development is most needed like Upstate or with high rates of unemployment and poverty:
- Almost two-thirds of tax credits are directed to areas with less than 10% unemployment;
- Nearly two-thirds of projects are located in areas with less than 20% of families in poverty;
- Less than one-third of projects are located in predominantly African American and/or Latino neighborhoods.
Andrew Postiglione, Environmental Advocates’ fiscal policy associate said, “It is critical environmentally toxic sites be cleaned up and put back into use. However, the state’s existing brownfields program can be summed up in two words: costly and off-target. We call on Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to fix this program. It is important to get development rolling in areas that need it most, and ensure taxpayers are not simply funding already profitable real estate ventures.”
Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz, chair of the Assembly Committee on Cities and chair of the Puerto Rican/ Hispanic Task Force said, “The State's Brownfields Program must continue to provide incentives in the form of tax credits for the redevelopment of polluted neighborhoods across the State. That being said, fiscal and enforcement reforms of the program are necessary to make certain that it runs efficiently and also to ensure that it serves communities most in need. The community of Red Hook in my Brooklyn district is not only economically stressed, but the residential population and businesses would greatly benefit from the renewal of the State's Brownfields program. We cannot leave our children with an environmental legacy tarnished by contaminated properties. We can improve public health, maintain a clean environment and give hope to struggling communities by strengthening this valuable program.”
Senator Jose M. Serrano (D-Manhattan/Bronx) said, “New York State has invested over a billion dollars in brownfield cleanups and many struggling communities, including parts of my district in the South Bronx and East Harlem, have little to show for it. Too often incentives have gone to pad the profits of lucrative developments, rather than provide the subsidies needed to get redevelopment projects off the ground in low income neighborhoods where environmental remediation is often needed the most. While extending the brownfields program is extremely important, any extension must ensure that public funds provide economic renewal for New Yorkers of all socioeconomic classes.”
Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk (D-Kingston) said, “The New York State Brownfields Cleanup Program has had substantial success in restoring toxic waste sites to usable businesses that employ local residents and improve communities. Unfortunately, as shown through the analysis conducted by Environmental Advocates, the program is falling short in small upstate cities and rural areas, where unemployment is high and the need is great. Remediation of contaminated sites in these communities would have a powerful impact on job creation and the local economy. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues and Environmental Advocates as we consider ways to improve the Brownfields Cleanup Program.”
Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group said, “As Environmental Advocates' analysis shows, the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program continues to hemorrhage taxpayers' dollars, without delivering on the program's environmental and community revitalization promises. Any extension of the brownfield tax credits, which expire in 2015, must be tied to significant program reforms.”
Reforms being urged include:
- Target redevelopment tax credits in neighborhoods in need of public incentives to attract private investment;
- Separate eligibility for state certified cleanups from eligibility for redevelopment tax credits;
- Establish redevelopment tax credit eligibility criteria such as whether site is located in an economically disadvantaged area, is being developed to conform to community planning, or the property’s value is upside-down;
- Extend Brownfield Cleanup Program tax credits for 10 years to provide program certainty.