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NAHB has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to give the public more time to study a proposal for reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, citing the plan’s national implications, extremely high costs and technical complexity.
The agency set a 45-day timeframe for public comments when it introduced the plan on Sept. 22, and NAHB has asked to extend the period to 180 days.
While the agency did not respond to NAHB’s request, it did respond to a similar letter from Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.), who was one of 21 members of Congress who asked for the deadline to be extended, according to news stories.
According to the EPA, the deadline cannot be extended because a settlement agreement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation sets a deadline of Dec. 31 for finalizing the proposal.
“The Chesapeake Bay is a precious natural resource, and it is essential that people living in the affected areas have ample opportunity to study and comment on the EPA proposal,” said NAHB Chairman Bob Jones.
“We are especially concerned that a unilateral approach that includes permanent restrictions on growth will further damage the region’s economy and result in a lack of funds to pay for the measures that are necessary to improve the bay,” Jones said.
The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) proposal sets limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that each state is allowed to discharge into the bay’s watershed, which includes parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
In turn, the states have proposed discharge limits for agriculture, new development and municipal wastewater treatment plants. Taking the steps necessary to meet the proposed discharge limits will cost billions of dollars. For example, Washington, D.C., officials have said it would cost $4 billion to renovate just one sewage facility to bring it into compliance with the plan.
Additionally, consumers will likely face new fertilizer restrictions, controls to help limit rainwater runoff from their lawns and significantly higher taxes and fees to pay for city, county and state infrastructure improvements.
“The new TMDL will impose extraordinarily difficult regulatory requirements on the citizens who live in the bay watershed states,” said Jones. “The EPA has already announced that these plans are a blueprint for the rest of the nation, which is all the more reason to make sure the public has ample time to carefully study these proposals.”
He added that the current timeframe may be too short to allow the consideration of innovative solutions that would have a smaller impact on businesses and the region’s economy. Setting up nutrient trading programs, for example, would allow developers to build new communities in exchange for buying “water quality credits” that pay farmers for making low-cost improvements on their farms to reduce pollutants into the bay.
“Agriculture operations have an enormous effect on the bay’s water quality,” Jones pointed out. “Paying farmers to reduce their pollution means more income for farmers even as it helps ensure that farmers tackle their share of the bay’s cleanup program.”
The idea that the bay region’s citizens can evaluate the many provisions of the TMDL proposal without studying them carefully is “misguided and just plain wrong,” Jones said. “NAHB wants to ensure the proper balance between environmental stewardship and economic impact for the home building industry and for the watershed as a whole. We all have a stake in this.”
A press statement issued by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation called NAHB’s request “an attempt to delay and derail the clean-up process for short-term profit” — a charge immediately refuted by NAHB CEO Jerry Howard in a letter to the foundation’s president.
"Even the EPA admits that the computer modeling to propose pollutant loadings for the TMDL is defective and will not be fixed until after the rule is finalized,” Howard pointed out. “Yet the EPA has never shared the data it used to arrive at the TMDLs with those stakeholders who will implement them.”
Howard’s letter also reiterated the far-reaching implications of the TMDL rules for the 17 million residents in the six-state watershed. “We also have grave concerns about the effects of the rule on our stressed out economy, including the potential impact on employment as the costs to comply with the rule begin to mount.”
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.