A national program for cleaning up contaminated sites is dogged by funding shortages and a lack of oversight that puts lower-income communities at a disadvantage in obtaining federal support, an investigation coordinated by the Investigative News Network Found.

Among other findings, the investigation (which can be read in full here) found that:

  • In Connecticut, only 19 brownfields properties have been completely cleaned up and certified since 1994, despite close to $60 million in brownfield-related grants and loans by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • In Massachusetts, most of the cleanup funds have gone to former mill towns in suburban areas, where developers are eager to build, rather than to minority urban communities.
  • In Wisconsin, which boasts a well-regarded program, the state brownfields chief says it will take decades to clean up the thousands of contaminated sites, whose ranks have grown during the recession.

    The Connecticut Health Investigative Team, New England Center for Investigative Reporting, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism all contributed to the investigation, which was coordinated by Evelyn Larrubia of the Investigative News Network.

    The report finds that the program's shortcomings are "due to limited funds, a lack of federal oversight, seemingly endless waits for approvals, and dense bureaucratic processes." For its part, the EPA says the program “is not intended to address all of the brownfield sites in the U.S.”

    Indeed, in a July report that City Limits produced as part of the collaboration, we found that state and—in New York's case, at least—city brownfields programs have attempted to fill the gap between available federal funding and the cost of rendering thousands of brownfields sites usable again.

    But the New York state and city programs, while they have made progress, don't aspire to cover the entire price of a clean-up: Developers who want to use the site are expected to cover the lion's share of the expense. As our story points out, the vagaries of the real estate market and the politics of land-use in the city can both affect which sites get attention, and when.