As defined by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, a brownfield is a piece of real estate that may be difficult to put to a different use, expand upon or re-develop because of environmental issues.
Specifically, brownfields may include some sort of chemical hazard, soil contaminant or some other type of pollution. Depending on the type and extent of the pollution, it may be prohibitively costly to redevelop a brownfield.
Both the federal government and the state of New York have detailed laws and regulations about brownfields.
For example, New York has a Brownfield Cleanup Program.
The Program is open to volunteer businesses, that is, businesses that are willing to purchase, clean up and re-develop a brownfield.
In the best case, everyone wins. The business gains a profitable piece of real estate in exchange for its investment, and the public gets the benefit of a decontaminated piece of land.
Businesses that are legally responsible for creating a brownfield may also agree to participate in the program. Participation might be an attractive alternative to facing court action, which could prove much costlier.
Having the right legal strategy is important for dealing with brownfield issues
Brownfields are one complicated area of environmental law.
Basically, environmental law is a web of federal, state and even local laws and regulations that can affect businesses and individual investors of all sizes and experience.
The idea behind these laws is to protect the environment for future New Yorkers.
Environmental law often shapes how a business can or cannot use their land. Environmental law also could impose legal liability, including criminal liability, on a business and their owners if others accuse the business of illegally polluting the environment.
Whether they are considering investing in a brownfield, participating in New York’s Brownfield Cleanup Program or are trying to avoid liability for allegedly creating a brownfield, businesses need to understand all of their legal rights and responsibilities.