• Reauthorize federal Superfund taxes on chemicals, petroleum, and corporations or create another federal funding mechanism to revive the Hazardous Substance Superfund cleanup program and remove the cost of cleanup from the general fund;
  • Implement legislation—incentive programs, for example—that considers environmental costs and encourages the reduction of hazardous waste at the source and the design of reuse programs;
  • Enact the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act to help localities redevelop brownfield sites;
  • Continue to fund existing federal programs to finance the revitalization of America’s brownfields;
  • Create a Brownfields Redevelopment Action Grant program within the Environmental Protection Agency to provide investment funds for local governments that would allow private investments to be leveraged in order to help preserve farmland and open spaces.



Since Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) in December 1980, corrective action has been taken at thousands of contaminated sites across the country. However, nearly 30 years of federal attention to cleaning up contaminated sites has done little to reduce the problem. As of November 2008, 1,255 sites were listed on the National Priorities List (NPL), down only slightly from 1,273 sites in 2004, and another 9,957 sites were awaiting evaluation for possible listing.3

While the number of sites remains relatively constant, federal funding during the last 20 years has systematically decreased. When it was enacted, CERCLA established the Superfund Trust Fund, which was funded by a corporate environmental income tax and excise taxes on petroleum and specified chemicals. The trust fund received approximately $1.5 billion per year before the legislative authority authorized to collect the taxes expired on December 31, 1995. While there has been some interest in reinstating the taxes, there has been little legislative action. Superfund cleanup is currently funded through the ongoing appropriations process.4

Between fiscal years 1981 and 2005 Congress appropriated $29.3 billion to aid in the cleanup of hazardous waste sites under Superfund. Billions more were appropriated to clean up leaking underground storage tanks and brownfields sites. The states have also contributed billions to hazardous-waste cleanups. Even as the need has grown, annual congressional appropriations for Superfund have steadily declined in recent years after topping $2 billion in fiscal year 1998. The appropriation for both fiscal years 2007 and 2008 was $1.08 billion, the lowest level since fiscal year 1986.2 Higher funding levels have been proposed in the last two years but have not been enacted because of incomplete congressional appropriations processes, which result in the same level of funding being carried on from the previous year.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2004 report Cleaning up the Nation’s Wastes Sites estimated that as many as 350,000 contaminated sites will require cleanup during the next 25 years. Assuming that current regulations and practices remain the same, it could cost as much as $250 billion to clean up those sites.5 No updated data have been released, but current cleanup costs could be much higher when inflation is taken into account.

Meanwhile, the pace of cleanups is slowing. For much of the 1990s the EPA averaged more than 70 construction-complete sites per year. However, since 2000 the number of newly completed sites has decreased dramatically. In fiscal year 2003 there were just 40 NPL sites deemed to be complete, and in 2007 and 2008 the EPA reported that only 24 and 30 sites were completed, respectively.6


 Across the country, hundreds of thousands of former industrial and commercial sites potentially containing hazardous waste sit idle awaiting remediation. Most of these abandoned or underutilized facilities are in urban areas. Shifts in resources, industries, technical expertise, and wealth are the primary cause for environmental degradation and loss of economic viability. Remediated brownfield sites, however,  can provide improvements in health and public safety, environmental benefits, and economic development.

According to a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, there were 24,896 brownfield sites awaiting redevelopment in 2008 in 188 cities nationwide. In addition, more than 150 cities had successfully redeveloped 1,578 brownfield sites, returning more than 10,000 acres to economic productivity. These actions resulted in $408 million in new municipal revenues in 62 cities and more than 191,338 jobs—a dramatic increase from $90 million and 83,000 jobs in 2004.1

Of the 188 cities with idle brownfields, 148 reported that a total of 576,373 new jobs and as much as $1.9 billion annually could be generated if the sites were redeveloped.1

The country’s mayors identified insufficient funding, environmental assessment, lack of money for demolition and liability concerns as the leading obstacles to redevelopment. Currently, 3,282 sites in 150 cities have been “mothballed”—designated by developers or owners as having no chance of redevelopment.1

Tax Revenue from Brownfields Redevelopment in Billions of Dollars


In order to be resilient, brownfield sites must be sustainable, ensuring that needs of both current and future generations are met. Future investments must address innovative technologies, security, and life-cycle maintenance of the sites. A resilience strategy that addresses both disposal and cleanup of existing sites can help improve public perception in accepting the creation and location of new waste disposal facilities.


Hazardous waste sites across the country hold enormous potential for economic growth and community redevelopment. However, we risk losing access to those benefits if funding is not increased and the pace of remediation is not accelerated. To restore these sites to a safe and usable condition, both public and private organizations must work together.


  1. U.S. Conference of Mayors, Recycling America’s Land: A National Report on BrownfieldsRedevelopment Volume VII, January 2008.
  2. Budget of the United States Government, Government Printing Office Access:
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Priorities List, U.S.:
  4. U.S. Congressional Research Service, Superfund Taxes or General Revenues: Future Funding Issues for the Superfund Program, February, 2008.
  5. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cleaning up the Nation’s Waste Sites, 2004:
  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Superfund National Accomplishments Summary, 2008:
  7. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Clean-up Success Story Pages: