Legacy Pollution & IIJA

Funding, Timelines, Model Projects

Wednesday, January 26, 2022
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5 min
legacy pollution
superfund
brownfields
PCBs
Ellory Monks

Lover of infrastructure, cities, environment. Also: women engineers, Rice University. Co-Founder of @TheAtlas4Cities & 2x mom.

Legacy pollution is the remnants of heavy metals and chemicals – lead, mercury and PCBs – used or produced by American industry in the 1940s and 50s. Back then, nobody knew about the lasting harmful impacts of these pollutants, and the industry standards reflected that. Importantly, legacy pollution disproportionately affects black, brown and other historically underserved communities.

Legacy pollution is being addressed through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) by investing $21 billion in Superfund and brownfield site cleanup, reclaiming abandoned mine lands and capping orphaned gas and oil wells. The funding gives state and local governments the opportunity to reduce the effects of legacy pollution, improve public health and promote environmental justice for communities of color.

This section includes the reauthorized legacy pollution program in the Infrastructure Deal, and the relative speed at which local governments can expect to see the money for these types of projects.

It also includes case studies from state and local governments who have successfully implemented and maintained legacy pollution cleanup projects in their communities. We chose case studies that reflect the goals outlined in the legislation.

Funding Priorities for Legacy Pollution included in IIJA

  1. Superfunds & Brownfields – Programs like the reauthorized Brownfield Remediation Program give funding to treat contaminated superfund and brownfield sites like manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills and mining sites.
  2. Orphan Wells – The legislation establishes a new Energy Community Revitalization program to plug orphaned oil wells and help with revitalization.
  3. Abandoned Mine Land – IIJA reauthorizes funds for the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Program to reclaim abandoned mine lands and eliminate dangerous pollution caused by past coal mining and legacy energy development.
  4. Pollution Exposure – The Energy Community Revitalization program will also reduce rural and tribal community exposure to hazardous pollution, toxic water levels and land subsidence. The funding lays the foundation to support new economic development opportunities once the sites are cleaned.

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Relevant Legacy Pollution Programs in IIJA & Speed of Distribution

Congress included several funding mechanisms for legacy pollution in IIJA. How quickly state and local governments will see funding for addressing legacy pollution depends on the funding mechanisms outlined in the law.

The legacy pollution program in IIJA most relevant to state and local governments is the Brownfield Remediation Program. State and local governments should see money relatively quickly through this reauthorized grant program that is receiving additional funding as a part of IIJA:

  • Reauthorized Competitive Grant
  • Funding Amount: $1.5 Billion
  • Applicants: State and local governments, redevelopment authorities, nonprofits, CDCs, LLCs, workforce investment boards, regional councils

There are several other legacy pollution provisions in IIJA that include funding mechanisms like direct federal spending. While local governments won’t receive money directly from these programs, they are still relevant. For example, state and local governments may partner with federal agencies to identify legacy pollution sites.

The Infrastructure Deal includes $16 billion for legacy pollution cleanup, specifically:

  • $11.3 billion to address abandoned mine land and water reclamation projects. Funds are distributed to states and tribal governments through the reauthorized Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Program. It uses fees paid by present-day coal mining companies to reclaim coal mines that were abandoned before 1977 and now require cleanup.
  • $4.7 billion to plug orphaned well sites, as well as remediation and restoration activities. The funds in IIJA will go towards creating a new Energy Community Revitalization program to support states and Tribal governments in orphaned well site cleanup.
  • $3.5 billion in direct federal spending is going towards the Hazardous Substance Superfund Remediation program. Although this money won’t be awarded directly to state and local governments, this program is administered in partnership with states. Local governments can play a role in superfund discovery and identification.

Model Legacy Pollution Projects to Prioritize for IIJA Funding

While the extensive federal agency rule-making processes are underway, state and local government leaders are starting the preparatory work to best position their communities to receive as much funding as possible. An influx of federal money this size demands state and local government leaders think big about the projects they can pursue in their communities and the impacts they can achieve.

In this section, we’ve compiled a list of inspiring legacy pollution case studies from state and local governments who have achieved goals similar to ones outlined in IIJA.

Our hope is that they inspire state and local government leaders to consider all colors of money for legacy pollution cleanup and serve as models for impactful legacy pollution projects to put forward for IIJA funding.

Superfund Site Cleanup

Growing industrialization near the Gowanus Canal has polluted the soil and canal bed, resulting in toxic levels of pollutants in the water. New York’s combined sewer system empties into the Gowanus as well, making it one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country. After being marked as a ‘Superfund’ site by the EPA, the city developed a small park coined the “Sponge Park,” that slows, absorbs and filters surface water runoff through constructed wetlands.

Local Gov Case Study

Abandoned Mine Land Cleanup

Abandoned mine reclamation work by Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality transformed Soda Butte Creek from the most polluted stream entering Yellowstone National Park to become Montana’s first water body delisted from the Clean Water Act.

Local Gov Case Study

Brownfield Redevelopment

As a former military site, Nansemond Ordnance Depot required significant cleanup to remedy soil contamination. The 30+ year effort, which yielded the removal of over 6,200 munitions, is almost complete with commercial and residential development planned for the waterfront property along with public access trails.

Local Gov Case Study

To properly develop its Canal Park commercial business district, the city of Duluth needed to address the brownfield that had been left untouched for several years. With the help of local non-profit and entrepreneurs, the city was able to clean up the land and redevelop it into a brewery and walking path.

Local Gov Case Study

We hope these case studies inspire you and demonstrate the scale and type of community impacts that are possible with the legacy pollution investments included in IIJA. Want to see more? Browse legacy pollution case studies in The Atlas case study database.

 Explore the rest of the handbook.


Author’s Note: Rachel Angulo (Content Marketing Manager at The Atlas) provided writing and research support to this section. Mark Funkhouser (Former Mayor of Kansas City, MO), Shalini Vajjhala (Executive Director of the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center) and Erik Caldwell (Director of Data Strategy at The Atlas and former Deputy Chief Operating Officer at the City of San Diego) generously reviewed this section.

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