The Honorable Lisa Jackson
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator Jackson,
Ohio has nearly 100,000 vacant properties awaiting demolition. These vacant properties represent a serious risk to public safety and are havens for crime and unwanted activity. Additionally, vacant properties have an enormous impact on property value, which the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland outlined in a 2011 report. In some parts of Cleveland, housing values have sunk to just 10 percent of their assessed value. As 60 Minutes documented in December, this is a quickly escalating problem in our urban areas, and we must act aggressively to demolish these vacant properties.
I have been impressed by the work of land banks throughout Ohio who have proactively gotten involved in this effort, by forming public-private partnerships and other innovative approaches. Since 2010, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank has demolished over 800 residential structures in the Cleveland area, with thousands still on the list. With the average property demolition cost already hitting $7,000, I am particularly concerned about regulatory interpretations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that are driving up costs for many demolition projects.
I understand that the EPA's December 2010 reinterpretation of the National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants regulation governing asbestos removal has increased costs in both time and money for cities and local land banks. Constituents of mine who are proactively trying to address the issue of blighted properties are concerned that your agency is now reading the regulation to no longer exempt isolated residential buildings of four or fewer dwelling units from regulation when part of an "urban renewal project." Stakeholders including land banks have made a compelling argument that this interpretation is inconsistent with the plain language of the regulation's exemption for small residential buildings, which makes no such "urban renewal project" distinction.
Due to the EPA's cramped interpretation of residential exemption, nearly all demolitions are now subject to these onerous rules -- up from just 20 percent of properties before the rules went into place. In fact, the costs of asbestos remediation in Cuyahoga County demolitions increased by 1,600 percent in just one year. Given the staggering cost increases and the growing need for demolitions, I urge you to work with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and local stakeholders to reassess this regulation's impact on local land banks and the communities they serve.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.