Brownfields of Dreams"?: Challenges and Limits of Voluntary Cleanup Programs and Incentives
Joel B. Eisen   |   1996 U. Ill. L. Rev.

As one of the most important current topics in environmental law, the redevelopment of abandoned or underutilized urban properties, better known as brownfields, continues to generate much discussion and debate. Because most agree that abandoned sites located in aging areas and the accompanying exodus of industry to the suburbs are undesirable, the federal government and many state governments have created programs to encourage the redevelopment of these industrial properties. But often overlooked by the advocates of such programs are the difficult political, scientific, and moral questions associated with redevelopment.

In this insightful article, Professor Eisen provides the most comprehensive discussion to date of brownfield programs that often exchange increased health risks to the surrounding community for additional jobs and higher tax revenue. He then draws an analogy between brownfield redevelopment programs and negotiated compensation statutes, which were created to facilitate the siting of hazardous and solid waste disposal facilities but have experienced only limited success. Finally, after exposing the shortcomings of the current brownfield programs through this analogy, Professor Eisen concludes that adequate community input and a revision of CERCLA are but two of the many changes that must be made in order to increase the public legitimacy of brownfield redevelopment programs.

* Assistant Professor of Law and Director, Robert R. Merhige, Jr. Center of Environmental Law, University of Richmond School of Law. B.S. 1981, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; J.D. 1985, Stanford Law School.

I would like to thank Professor Jim Krier of the University of Michigan Law School; Hon. Don Ritter, Greg Planicka, and Joe Schilling of the National Environmental Policy Institute; and my colleagues, Michael Allan Wolf, W. Wade Berryhill, and Greg Sergienko for their invaluable assistance and comments on earlier drafts of this article. I would also like to acknowledge the Law School for its generous financial support of my research and thank student research assistants Kristine Dalaker, Raelenne Jensen, and Bethany Lukitsch for their help, and students Karen Bleattler, Stacie Craddock, Brennen Keene, Camille Sabbakhan, and Andrea Wortzel for providing useful information. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank my editor for life, Tamar Schwartz Eisen.

Information on state voluntary cleanup programs in this article is based on interviews by the author with state voluntary cleanup program administrators and on results of a survey sent to program administrators; program information is believed to be current as of July 1, 1996.