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Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CLEAVER. Mr. Chair, I appreciate the House's need to reduce the deficit and cut back on spending. Tightening our belts is something we need to do. However, these cuts should be targeted--with a doctor's scalpel instead of a machete--so that we do not collapse the economy that we are trying so hard to build up. Unfortunately, the Interior bill we are currently debating is the work of a machete. This bill cuts or eliminates funding for countless programs that exist to help communities--including the Environmental Protection Agency's Smart Growth Programs and the Office of Sustainable Communities.

The EPA Office of Sustainable Communities is part of an inter-agency partnership with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It was established to provide a resource for communities who need technical assistance to plan for economic growth and development and account for a changing population.

The services offered by the EPA Sustainable Communities Office are in high demand--they have been able to assist only 9% of interested communities due to budget and time constraints. Since 2005, over 1,300 communities have requested assistance from the EPA; 122 have been assisted, all for a total of $4.5 million.

This is a program that helps local governments expand their economic development options and make their communities more attractive to business and local citizens. The EPA's Office of Sustainable Communities works with HUD and DOT to make government better at helping communities develop housing, transportation and energy efficiency plans. This partnership removes barriers and cuts bureaucratic red tape, which means more efficient investments.

My home state of Missouri is already benefiting from the work of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Last fall, my district of Kansas City received a $4.5 million grant from the Partnership. The Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant brings together assistance from HUD, DOT, and EPA to study six development corridors that connect 30 communities to Kansas City's urban core and coordinate housing, transportation and environmental protection along these corridors. The Kansas City region also received a $50 million TIGER grant for investments in regional transit corridors, additional transit centers, bus stop improvements, as well as sidewalk, street, and transit improvements in the city's Green Impact Zone in the urban core.

Kansas City also received a grant that will support outreach and production of a handbook of tools and incentives designed to facilitate the redevelopment of older commercial brownfield sites in urban and suburban locations throughout the city. Commercial brownfields sites often include contamination and can be challenging to redevelopment in suburban communities.

The first phase of the project will inventory the tools, incentives, and techniques available locally to create smart growth designs and revitalize brownfields. Research will then be performed on relevant national models and best practices in these fields. A handbook will be compiled containing information on smart growth techniques for brownfield commercial sites that can cut development costs, offer unique amenities, and respond to environmental impacts. It will also highlight relevant brownfield incentives, tools, and strategies.

A design workshop will be conducted for two local, commercial brownfield sites, one urban and one suburban. The results of the workshop will be incorporated into the handbook, which will be presented at a series of roundtable events held for developers, landowners, and others involved in the redevelopment process. The project will actively seek input from the community on methods to make commercial site reuse attractive and to determine the needs of communities near commercial brownfield sites. The results may be used to suggest improvements to city codes and policies to encourage reuse and smart growth design of brownfield sites. This project will help balance regional growth in urban and suburban locations through marketing assistance for both areas, and encourage mixed-use redevelopment to better meet community service and housing needs.

Additionally, Missouri's capital, Jefferson City, has received EPA assistance to improve an area in the city core that serves as the gateway to the State Capitol and the larger Capital Complex.

Smart Growth projects similar to the projects I highlighted in Missouri are in 200 communities and almost all 50 states. Seven members of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee have at least one Sustainable Communities project in their district. These programs within EPA, HUD, and DOT provide assistance to communities for the tools they need to create the community that people want to live in. This partnership removes barriers and cuts bureaucratic red tape, which means more efficient investments. If we are truly interested in cutting costs at the government level, we should be promoting efficient and cross-cutting government programs like this one, instead of de-funding them.

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