North Central College - Naperville, IL

Alum talks to students about his work as senior advisor in EPA

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Charlie Bartsch, class of 1973
Charlie Bartsch, class of 1973

Charlie Bartsch—a North Central College Class of 1973 alumnus and political science major—returned to campus Oct. 21 to give a lunchtime lecture to the campus community, speak to students in two classes, meet with sustainability team members and students in the Green Scene club.

He is the senior program advisor for economic development to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus. Bartsch, a political appointee to the EPA who’s worked in the nation’s capital for 15 years, is charged with promoting interagency and public-private financing partnerships to spur land revitalization and site use.

“My job is enhancing relationships and building partnerships between the EPA and communities to find ways to work together to benefit everyone,” Bartsch says. “I demystify the process when it comes to environmental concerns and sustainable development.”

When Bartsch spoke about sustainability and community development to students in an environmental ethics class, taught by Professor of Philosophy Timothy Morris (photo, left), he told students why he’s a big fan of his education at North Central.  

“I gained the ability to think critically, write and reason and interact with people at North Central. These skills have certainly served me well over the years. And I encourage you to do lots of internships. In my job I teach internship classes so I know what I’m talking about. As an intern, you prove yourself a good employee. So when they’re ready to hire, you’re right where the job openings appear,” he says.

During his lunch lecture, titled “Observations on the Sustainability Nexus: Environment, Energy and Economic Development,” as well as his class visits, including a business and environment class taught by Associate Professor of Management Jeffrey Anstine, Bartsch talked at length about his work at the EPA.

Bartsch’s area of professional expertise is brownfield properties that are lightly contaminated or have the potential presence of a hazardous substance. Examples of such properties are an abandoned dry cleaner, gas station, strip mall, military base or landfill. As properties like these are considered for a second use, there are environmental concerns and the EPA needs to be involved.

“There’s a perception out there that if you talk to the EPA you will have trouble. But we’re here to help,” he says. The EPA provides information, resources and technical support to evaluate the land, and helps people and communities work through the process more efficiently and cost effectively to reach their goals.

Bartsch says there are 1 million such abandoned brownfield properties nationwide; only 1,000 are seriously hazardous. He works with communities to find ways to rehabilitate and reuse the land. He cited some abandoned properties that have been turned into a wind farm and urban gardens. Ideally, he brings together the stakeholders—e.g., cities, nonprofits, land developers, government agencies—and creates or “stitches together” projects that benefit the whole for sustainable development. “Some incentives are available to only some of the stakeholders, but when we pull their efforts together, they can all benefit and reach their goals,” he says.

Before his appointment to the EPA, Bartsch was senior fellow at ICF International, where he served as ICF’s brownfields and smart growth policy expert. Before that, he was director of Brownfield Studies at the Northeast-Midwest Institute in Washington, D.C., a public policy center affiliated with the bipartisan Northeast-Midwest Congressional and Senate Coalitions.

He has authored many publications on various brownfield financing and reuse issues and strategies, including pioneering “Coming Clean for Economic Development,” “New Life for Old Buildings,” “Coping with Contamination: Industrial Site Reuse and Urban Redevelopment,” and “Brownfields State of the States” and “Guide to Federal Brownfield Programs.” He often testifies before Congress on issues of economic development, most recently on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development brownfield financing innovations and brownfield tax incentives.

He has been chair of the national Brownfield Association’s Advisory Board, chair of GroundworksUSA and on the editorial board for the Bureau of National Affairs. In 2011, he received the International Economic Development Council’s Chairman’s Award for Outstanding Service for 10 years of work on brownfield policies and legislation.

Bartsch received a master’s degree in urban policy and planning from the University of Illinois-Chicago.