NY Governor Sends Revised BCP Reform Bill to Legislature

Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo sent his sweeping BCP reforms to the State Legislature. Under the state Constitution, the Governor has 30 days to make technical amendments to his budget legislation without involving the legislature.

Despite vociferous complaints by brownfield developers, environmental lawyers and affordable housing advocates about the severe curtailments to the categories of projects that would be eligible for brownfield tax credits, the Governor made only modest revisions to the original bill. However, the Governor submitted his legislation under a self-imposed 21-day amendment process so it is possible that there will be additional tweaking to the BCP portion of the bill.   Once the 30-day period has expired, changes to the BCP would be subject to the usual legislative process.

Notwithstanding the cacophony of critical voices to the proposed BCP changes, there is much to like about the proposed revisions. In this post, we will cover the positive changes. In a second post, we will then discuss the changes that need to be tweaked and then close the series with a review of the changes that threaten to transform the BCP into a zombie program.

The Good 

The changes listed below are not in order of importance but simply track the changes in the legislation.

1. Extension of BCP- Obviously, the most important change is that the legislation would extend the brownfield tax credits (BTCs) to December 31, 2022.  The fact that the Governor agreed to extend the BTCs was a victory for brownfield developers since there was considerable sentiment within the budget office to allow the BTCs to expire because of their costs. Sites accepted into the BCP after December 31, 2022 would not be eligible for brownfield tax credits.

2. New COC Deadlines– Under the existing BCP, all sites had to obtain their COCs by 12/31/15 to be able to qualify for the tax credits. The proposed amendments retain the 12/31/15 COC deadline for sites that were accepted into the BCP prior to the 6/23/08 amendments. Projects that were accepted after 6/23/08 but before 7/1/14 will have an extra two years to obtain their COC (12/31/17)  to remain eligible for the BTCs.  Sites accepted into the BCP after 7/1/14 will have until 12/31/25 to obtain their COCs and qualify for BTCs.

3. Revised Brownfield Site Definition- The new definition requires that an applicant do sufficient sampling to establish actually contains contaminants that exceed the applicable soil cleanup objectives or other health-based environmental standards promulgated by the NYSDEC.  This change brings more clarity to what constitutes a brownfield site but really just conforms the definition to current NYSDEC policy since the agency was requiring applicants to demonstrate that the site was actually impacted by contamination by performing and including the results if a phase 2 in the BCP application. The revised language indicates that the applicant must submit an investigation that is sufficient to demonstrate that the site requires remediation to meet the remedial requirements of the BCP.

Significantly, the revised brownfield definition does not require the contamination to be from an on-site source which represents a significant eligibility expansion since applicants are currently required to establish an on-site source of contamination to be eligible for the BCP.  Instead of excluding these sites from the BCP, the proposed bill would simply prohibit applicants of these sites from claiming tangible tax credits for addressing such contamination.  For example, an applicant who would have to install an sub-slab depressurization system (SSDS) to address vapors from contaminated soil gas because of a plume that originated from an adjacent dry cleaner could enroll in the BCP and be eligible for site preparation costs tax credit but not the tangible property tax.

4. Eligibility Extended to Class 2 Sites- The original BCP legislation contained a six month amnesty period for class 2 sites to apply to the NYSDEC that expired in July 2004.  Since then, class 2 sites have been ineligible for the BCP even when innocent parties seek to redevelop the properties or the site may simply sit above a regional plume.

The proposed changes would allow state superfund sites (class 2 sites) to be eligible for the BCP where the applicant is a volunteer who owns the site or where the applicant is a volunteer who is under contract to purchase a class 2 site and the NYSDEC has been unable to identify a PRP with the ability to pay for the cleanup. [emphasis added]. It is unclear if the clause containing the limiting language following the “and” only modifies the clause pertaining to volunteers under contract to purchase a class 2 site or if the clause applies to sites already owned by the volunteer.

The explanation for the “viability” test is that the State of New York does not want to incur BTC liability when there is a financially responsible party who could pay for the cleanup. A responsible party is likely only to remediate a site to its current or reasonably anticipated use but in the absence of a development plan, the reasonably antiicipated use of a property with obsolete or deteriorating buildings may not be obvious.  In contrast, a brownfield developer will be enhancing the property and likely doing a more robust cleanup in a shorter period of time. While there is a legitimate concern for requiring class 2 sites that are under contract to be eligible only if there is not a financially viable responsible party, it may be worthwhile to consider other tests for determining when a class 2 site should be eligible for the BCP such as the responsible party does not currently own or has not owned the site since the expiration of the original amnesty period.

While pondering the conditions for allowing class 2 sites to be eligible for the BCP, the legislature should also consider allowing sites that are under enforcement orders to be eligible for the BCP. This would particularly make sense for sites that are covered by multi-site manufactured gas plant (MGP) orders on consent that several utilities have entered into with NYSDEC. Many of these sites will have cleanups that  require long-term institutional and engineering controls because the contaminants lie beneath existing commercial structures. So long as these sites are subject to site management plans (SMPs), the NYSDEC considers these sites to be still subject to an enforcement order and therefore not eligible for the BCP. It seems that the same rationale for allowing class 2 sites to be eligible for the BCP should apply to sites subject to enforcement orders. Indeed, there is precedent for this suggestion. In 2004, the legislature amended the BCP law to allow sites that were subject to petroleum stipulations agreement issued under the Oil Spill Program of the Navigation Law to be eligible for the BCP. If an innocent party is willing to remediate and redevelop a contaminated site, it should be able to enroll in the BCP subject to reasonable conditions such as ensuring that NYSDEC is reimbursed for past costs and the volunteer has not indemnified the responsible party.

5. Expansion of Track 1 Cleanups- If a BCP project has to use institutional or engineering controls, it is not eligible for a track 1 cleanup which allows for a higher site preparation cost tax credit and a 2% bonus for the tangible property tax credit. Where all the contaminated soil has been removed but elevated levels of contaminants remain in groundwater, the NYSDEC has been willing to approve conditional track 1 cleanups if there has been a significant reduction in the contaminant mass and contaminant levels have reached asymptotic conditions. Under this approach, the applicant will have to record an environmental easement and continue to monitor groundwater for five years. However, if the contaminant concentrations remain above groundwater standards after five years, the cleanup would revert to a lower cleanup track that could cause recapture of tax credits.

The proposed legislation will allow sites to qualify for an unconditional track 1 status where engineering or institutional controls are required for more than five years solely to address vapor intrusion as well as for groundwater remediation where the bulk contaminant concentrations have been reduced to asymptotic levels. However, there would no longer be a 2% tangible tax credit bonus for achieving track 1 cleanup;

6. Transfer of COCs- The legislation clarifies that COCs may only be transferred to subsequent legal or equitable title holders of all or a portion of the brownfield site. It had been unclear if the COC could be transferred without title changing hands.

7. BCP-EZ program- The proposed amendment would create a streamlined remedial program that would be called the BCP-EZ program. Applicants that qualify as volunteers would be exempt from certain procedural requirements for implementing remedial investigations and remedial actions for sites where the contamination does not pose a significant threat provided  the applicant waives rights to any tax credits and the work satisfies the technical requirements of Part 375.

8. Oversight Costs- Because both the NYSDEC and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) play a role in the state remedial programs, oversight costs can be significant especially for larger projects. Under the proposed bill, volunteers will no longer be required to pay oversight costs on or after July 1, 2014. This exemption applies both to applications submitted after July 1, 2014 as well as sites accepted into the BCP prior to July 1, 2014. However,  parties that are accepted into the BCP as “Participants” will be required to pay the NYSDEC for past costs incurred prior to the effective date of the brownfield cleanup agreement but the NYSDEC may negotiate a “reasonable” flat rate fee for future oversight costs.

9. Extra Tangible Tax Credits For Certain Projects– The Governor’s bill would allow certain categories of projects to be eligible for extra tangible property tax credits above the base of 10%.  A bonus of  5%  would be available for projects with affordable housing (based on square footage of the total affordable housing units(§25), an extra 10% could be claimed by projects on sites located Environmental Zones and a bonus of 5% would be available for “strategic sites” located in and conforming with a Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) plan.

10. Clarifies Treatment of Costs for Expired Federal Brownfield Tax Credit-  BCP applicants are currently allowed to claim up to $35MM ($45MM for manufacturing sites) in tangible property tax credits (known as the “hard cap”) or 3x the site preparation costs (6x for manufacturing ), whichever is less. The 3x or 6x times site preparation calculation is known as the “soft cap.”  The proposed legislation clarifies that on-site groundwater remediation costs and costs that could have been  ”expensed” and deducted for purposes of the IRS 198 brownfield tax credit but were not given such treatment may be used in calculating the “soft cap.”

11. Clarifies Treatment of Costs To Address Treatment of Contaminated Groundwater From Off-Site Source– Based on the way the qualifier in section 3 of the proposed legislation excluding tangible property tax credits for off-site contamination migrating onto property, it appears that site preparation tax credits will be available for costs to address contamination migrating onto site if required in the approved remedial action plan.

12. Abatement and Disposal of Hazardous Building Materials- The proposed amendment would allow applicants to include abatement costs for removing and disposing asbestos-containing materials, lead-based paint or PCB caulking in their site preparation costs provided the work is done under supervision of the Department of Labor or Department of Health would be eligible.

13. Hazardous Waste Generation Fee Exemption– Urban sites often contain significant swaths of fill material that may contain constituents such as heavy metals, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), petroleum and lead-based paint from demolished buildings. As a result, construction projects in urban areas can generate large quantities of excavated soil that may have to be managed as hazardous waste. Having to dispose soils and building debris as hazardous waste not only significantly increases disposal costs but can also trigger two types of state hazardous waste tax assessments or fees that can significantly add to the total project costs.

If the remediation is performed under the state superfund program or BCP, the generator of the waste does not have to pay the hazardous waste tax or fee. However, projects enrolled in the Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) administered by the New York City Office of Environmental Remediation (OER) are not exempt from the tax or fee. Depending on the size of the site or the depth of the excavation, the hazardous waste taxes could approach or even exceed the total remediation costs. Click here for more information about the hazardous waste fee and tax

The bill would also exempt remediation wastes from the state hazardous waste generator fee that are generated for cleanups are done under an agreement with EPA, pursuant to an order issued by a court or an agreement with a municipality such as OER that has entered into a memorandum of agreement with NYSDEC.

The “Meh” 

The legislation also includes some new submission deadlines and grounds for revoking COCs that have been criticized by some business groups but seem to fall into the  into the “Meh” category (for readers who are not fans of the TV show “The Simpsons”, the term is like a verbal shrug of the shoulders that expresses  indifference or lack of enthusiasm). At the very least, the provisions do not seem to be worth expending political capital and advocates would probably be better served keeping their powder dry for other more important issues raised by the bill.

  • An applicant will not be eligible for the BCP if it has failed to substantially comply with an agreement or order under another NYSDEC remedial program and the applicants participation in that other remedial program has been terminated by the NYSDEC or a court;
  • NYSDEC will now have 30 days to advise an applicant if its application is complete;
  • Applicants must implement work plans within 90 days of approval and complete the work in accordance with the schedule set forth in the document;
  • Every report required to be submitted under the BCP must include a schedule for submitting subsequent work plans required under the BCP;
  • Applicants must execute environmental easements within 180 days of commencement of the remedial design or at least 90 days prior to the anticipated issuance of the COC;
  • The period of time for recording an environmental easement by an owner of an inactive hazardous waste site or the person responsible for implementing the remedial program is extended from 60 days to 180 days of commencement of the remedial design;
  • Applicants seeking tangible property tax credits must evaluate two alternative remedies, with one alternative being a track 1 cleanup;
  • Where the NYSDEC approves an alternative remedy (cleanup tracks 2,3 or 4) at a site that has been determined not to pose a significant threat, the public comment period notice shall apply to both the selected remedy and the approval of the alternative analysis by the NYSDEC;
  • Final Engineering Reports now have to describe any interim remedial measures (IRMs) and the costs of the IRMs;
  • COCs will now include the date of the brownfield cleanup agreement (BCA); the names of the parties eligible for the tax credits and the applicable percentage available as of the date of the COC;
  • A COC may be revoked if the applicant makes a misrepresentation of a material fact concerning its eligibility for the tangible property tax credit. There was already a revocation for misrepresentation about the applicants qualification for volunteer status;
  • A COC may be revoked if the environmental easement is not effective or enforceable. This was revocation condition was added as part of the streamlining of the environmental easement process to highlight the consequences of not properly preparing and recording the environmental easement;
  • NYSDEC authority to grant waivers from local permits extends to investigations or remediation for contamination migrating from a brownfield site;
  • NYSDEC is expressly authorized to inspect sites for compliance with site management plans including evaluating operation and maintenance of remedial components, confirming site use and collecting samples;
  • The Department of State has responsibility for not only certifying Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA) but also confirming conformance with BOA plans for purpose of qualifying for the tangible property tax credit;
  • Elimination of the environmental insurance tax credit for sites admitted after July 1, 2014;
  • A municipality seeking to apply for funds from the Environmental Restoration Program (ERP) must assist in identifying responsible parties for the site by searching local records including property tax records;
  • NYSDEC may implement an ERP project on behalf of a local government provided the municipality periodically pays its share of the costs to the state.