Recovery of contaminated urban land through municipal setting designations in Texas



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Bound by environmental regulations, many potential developers shy away from brownfield projects because of the high cleanup costs associated with remediating contaminated groundwater. These circumstances create tension between economic and environmental interests, and sometimes between equity interests as well. In Texas, one piece of legislation called the Municipal Setting Designation (2003) aims to reduce liability associated with the redevelopment of contaminated properties. It uses an institutional control to eliminate the ingestion exposure pathway for contaminated groundwater when property owners develop a response action to the contamination. By eliminating risk associated with human consumption, the MSD is designed to reduce costs and accelerate the process for environmental remediation. Some parties praise Texas for taking such steps to quicken the redevelopment of contaminated properties, while others have reservations. This report will explore Texas’ MSD program using case study analysis and GIS analysis. It will examine risks associated with proximity to other water resources, and the principle of “polluter pays.” What are the effects on the environment? What are the implications of extending MSD practices to cover large metropolitan areas over the long-term? Answers to these questions may identify successes and shortfalls that have emerged over the last eight years as municipalities and professionals have put this law into practice. As we continue to learn from experience, these insights may aid in refining Texas’ environmental stewardship policies for future generations.