Seed money

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently went for the green. To reclaim and redevelop the nation’s estimated 450,000 polluted “Brownfields,” in February HUD proposed doubling the agency’s current funding from $25 million to $50 million. Brownfields are mildly to moderately polluted former industrial sites that sit idle across the American landscape. Most are located in urban areas. They include old rail yards, steel mills, corner gas-station lots, and dry-cleaning shops. These parcels thrived in an era when industrial pollution was an accepted part of American life. When that changed, owners sometimes chained the gates and fled.

Today, Brownfields are eyesores and no man’s lands. They are not contaminated enough to merit detoxification under the stringent criteria of the nation’s Superfund. Yet they are not “clean” enough to allay the fears of local government and potential investors over the costs of cleaning them up to meet present-day environmental standards, preclude potential future law suits, or overcome public skepticism about even setting foot on them again.

After decades of neglect, however, something new is in the air. Businesses, government-local, state, and federal-community organizations, and environmentalists have decided to look again at these badlands and reclaim them for use. The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded more than 120 grants to...

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