NAHB, EPA Differ on Best Storm Water Compliance Approach
Judging from a June meeting of representatives from NAHB and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the two groups have a long way to go to reach a consensus on the best way to increase compliance with storm water permitting regulations and make the program an easier, more comprehensible process for the nation’s home builders.
So far, EPA has rejected ideas submitted by NAHB to streamline the permitting program and improve enforcement and compliance, according to association staff members who have been working on this issue. Fortunately, a storm water permit reform bill continues to gain traction on Capitol Hill.
And in the meantime, the federal agency has reported that it is not getting much cooperation from its regional offices on launching its own pilot programs.
Participating in last month’s NAHB-hosted meeting were representatives from home builders associations in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia; Region 3 EPA officials; state environmental agencies; and EPA headquarters staff.
EPA invited speakers to the meeting to present several pilot possibilities modeled on successful partnerships in other areas of the country. One, Wisconsin’s Green Tier project, provides incentives for builders — including reduced enforcement and additional promotional opportunities — who go beyond what storm water permitting regulations require.
NAHB also presented its new Model Environmental Management System, an Excel-based CD tool that allows builders to target voluntary training programs and compliance procedures for storm water management and other environmental issues.
The federal regulators had other ideas, including the introduction of a “sustainability” aspect into the compliance program, which rankled Maryland State Builders Association executive officer Kathleen Maloney.
EPA would look at sustainability to set limits on the amount of home building that should be allowed in a particular geographic area, she said. “EPA’s goal is to address how much development the environment can sustain, and we are not interested in having that sort of debate with them. It’s not appropriate. Local jurisdictions already have a mandate to talk about sustainability through zoning and building codes.”
And the idea of starting a compliance pilot program in a region that already has good compliance rates — and in a state where the Department of Natural Resources has a storm water program that is “the Cadillac program of the country” — doesn’t make a lot of sense, she said.
“We don’t have a big compliance problem, but one of the biggest problems we do have is inconsistent enforcement,” added Stephen Lefevbre, executive officer of the HBA of Delaware. “EPA is left to make its own interpretation of how to enforce the Clean Water Act, and one inspector may have a different idea than another one."
According to Greenwire, an environmental issues publication, when the charge of inconsistency arose at a June 28 Senate hearing, Granta Nakayama, the EPA's chief enforcement official, said that geography, climate, economic conditions and industries require flexibility on the part of the agency. "We cannot dictate from Washington how every situation should be handled,” he said. “Different circumstances and different compliance strategies do not necessarily add up to unfair treatment."
Because it contains a higher percentage of wetlands than most states, Delaware is probably not a good place for a pilot program anyway, Lefevbre said. “We’re sort of trying to seek our solutions here in Delaware, but they aren’t necessarily appropriate in other states; we have wetland and environmental concerns that some other states don’t have.”
More importantly, he said, any new program ideas must primarily be based on good science. “You can institute best management practices and best available technologies, but after a few years you are not going to achieve any significant further reduction” in discharges, Lefebvre said. “We are working side by side with state environmental officials to build a compliance model that can be used in other watersheds, and these federal mandates are just a distraction.”
Maryland builders, too, expressed the hope that federal officials will rethink the pilot program. “Our next step is to sit down with our state officials and see how we can stave this off,” Maloney said. And while EPA is looking for volunteers for the pilot program, it is likely not going to be truly voluntary, she said. “EPA believes there is a compliance issue and they are going to implement the pilot program with or without us.”
Meanwhile, the NAHB-backed Stormwater Enforcement and Permitting Act now has 30 co-sponsors among members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and if passed, it would streamline the permit process for home builders, improve compliance and enhance environmental protection, NAHB President David Pressly said last month.
To read the legislation, click here and enter H.R. 5558 in the box at the center of the page.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.
'Storm Water Permitting: A Guide for Builders and Developers' Available at BuilderBooks.com
“Storm Water Permitting: A Guide for Builders and Developers,” available through BuilderBooks.com, provides a starting point for builders and developers to use in locating and understanding storm water permitting requirements.
The publication has been prepared to help builders comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's storm water requirements, and includes information on state permitting programs and more than 50 of the most commonly used Best Management Practices. Also included are tips on compliance, including how to handle visits from inspectors.
To view or purchase this publication online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.