Turning brownfields into dreamfields

How the land recycling program works for Pennsylvania's communities

James M. Seif
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Since 1995, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has strived to make the restoration of brownfields a usual occurrence in the Commonwealth. All across Pennsylvania, communities that once were home to the remnants of Pennsylvania's economic past are flourishing and coming to life as old sites are turned into new opportunities.

Since the Land Recycling Program's inception in 1995, 880 cleanups have been performed at 783 sites across Pennsylvania. As a result, more than 20,000 jobs have been created or retained. More importantly, Pennsylvania's communities have reinvigorated their civic pride and identity by renewing old sites.

Land recycling-as Pennsylvania calls brownfield redevelopment-has been at the heart of Pennsylvania's economic renewal. When Gov. Tom Ridge took office in 1995, he vowed to make "Pennsylvania a leader among states and a competitor among nations" by ensuring that Pennsylvanians had the tools to be champions in the information age. The signing of Acts 2, 3 and 4 in May 1995, establishing Pennsylvania's Land Recycling Program, were a keystone in Gov. Ridge's plans for renewing Pennsylvania. By empowering communities and businesses all across the Commonwealth with a common-sense road map for redeveloping and reusing old industrial properties, Pennsylvania has been able to turn the glories of its industrial past into the businesses, research centers, parks, and residential communities that will ensure the dreams of Pennsylvanians for the future.

The fundamentals of Pennsylvania's Land Recycling Program are clear: common-sense, scientifically valid cleanup standards based on end-use; liability protection for owners, developers, financiers, economic development agencies, lenders and fiduciaries; financial assistance for communities, non-profits and economic development organizations for assessments and cleanups; and a clear process to recycle sites.

This model has received national recognition as an example of government innovation. In 1997, Pennsylvania's Land Recycling Program was honored by the Ford Foundation as one of the "Top Ten Innovations in Government." In addition, The Council of State Governments selected the Land Recycling Program as its 1997 Innovations Award winner and the American Legislative Exchange Council adopted the program as the national model for industrial site recycling.

As a result of the Land Recycling Program's innovative approach, companies such as EchoStar Communications Corp., Lucent Technologies, and GE Financial Assurance are expanding existing operations or recycling former industrial sites. More than 6,600 jobs were created or retained by these three projects alone. Retail power centers, technology centers, and manufacturing and service facilities are being created throughout the state.

These companies already have learned what many other companies, developers, and realtors are finding out: Pennsylvania is a great place to live, work, and do business. The Commonwealth's $307.9 billion economy ranks 17th in the world, standing between Mexico and Switzerland. Forty percent of the U.S. population, 45 percent of U.S. manufacturers, and 41 percent of the nation's domestic trade and service industries lie within a 500-mile radius of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital.

For more information, call DEP's Bureau of Land Recycling and Waste Management at 717-783-7816.