The Brownfield Clean-up Program Needs Reforms

Members of the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council rallied last week at the Wood & Brooks construction site on Kenmore Ave in Tonawanda to bring attention to a loophole in statewide prevailing wage laws. The law currently includes exemptions for projects that receive historic tax credits or brownfield tax credits.

In related news, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance also recently shared the findings of a report on return on investment for these and other tax credit programs, and found that the Brownfield Program is currently returning only 11 cents per dollar spent, although the report also notes that researchers did not study other positive impacts like community environmental and public health or even the economics of reactivating these vacant parcels. We would love to see a more targeted study that examines these topics in particular, but we wager that taxpayers are not getting the full benefits from this program that we could be receiving.

Overall, the NYS brownfield tax credit program is in need of reform, not only to address the prevailing wages loophole, but also to strengthen community oversight of these remediations through Community Advisory Group and to direct the funds better towards downtown redevelopments that do not have clear parties responsible for the pollution. Far too often, we have seen large large industrial parcels which are still connected with polluters responsible for the contamination (Potentially Responsible Parties, or PRPs) placed in the brownfield program with taxpayer dollars subsidizing the clean up rather than these large corporations.

In early 2022 we co-sponsored a letter to legislators asking them to include these reforms to the Brownfield Clean-up Program which was signed by labor and community groups from all across the state. Unfortunately these reforms did not make it into the final version of the law, but it has spurred conversations in Albany and these changes can be added through legislation.

We applaud our friends in labor for continuing to raise awareness of these issues, and will share more on this issue in the future, including how you can support calls for change. If you would like to join the fight for these changes, please reach out to Chris.

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