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NAHB has submitted formal comments laying out in detail its criticism of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s sweeping and staggeringly expensive Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) proposal to clean up the Chesapeake Bay — a 15-year plan designed as a model for managing runoff and discharges in watersheds throughout the rest of the nation.
While the EPA has no official estimates of the cost of the plan and was not required to consider costs when writing the TMDL for the watershed — which covers parts of six states and Washington, D.C. — a number of state and local government entities have begun to crunch the numbers with results that are nothing short of “astonishing,” said NAHB Environmental Issues Committee Chair Chuck Collett.
“We’re talking tens of billions of dollars for each state to replace and retrofit sewer systems, tear up impervious surfaces and install new storm water management systems,” Collett said. “And that doesn’t include the costs that must be borne by the farming industry, which is the single biggest source of pollution in the bay.”
Environmentalists say the costs must be borne by the businesses, governments and private citizens in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have not done enough in previous voluntary programs.
“Had the development community and others done what was appropriate and necessary in 2000, perhaps now we would not be having this debate,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker in a letter to NAHB CEO Jerry Howard.
Howard had written to Baker after the foundation issued a press statement critical of NAHB’s efforts to delay the TMDL proposal for additional needed study, calling NAHB’s actions “an attempt to delay and derail the clean-up process for short-term profit and narrow interests.”
But NAHB and other interest groups, including governments, say the issue is not short-term profit, but economic survival.
“If concerns relating to costs are not analyzed and addressed at the early stages of this initiative, the entire program will fall under the weight of the economic burdens it will impose upon many local governments and businesses,” said Penny Gross, a member of the Fairfax County, Va., Board of Supervisors in comments submitted in October to the EPA docket for the proposal.
“Furthermore, if we don’t have a firm understanding of costs and how the burdens of meeting these costs will be distributed, we don’t have a true ‘partnership.’"
“How can EPA claim to have developed a legitimate program if the proposal lacks documentation explaining what method it used for measuring expected pollutant load reductions associated with the TMDL or reliable data on the number of active construction sites, the regulated universe or the performance effectiveness of ‘acceptable’ BMPs?” NAHB asked in its comments.
“EPA’s cavalier attitude about the costs and impacts of a rule known to be defective from the beginning does not do credit to the agency,” the comments said.
Too Much, Too Fast
NAHB’s comments center on deficiencies in the TMDL’s development, including the science behind the calculations:
- The agency allowed only a 45-day comment period, not nearly enough time for home builders and others to review and respond to thousands of pages of information.
- With a stressed economy already causing state and local governments to lay off workers, there’s not enough money to pay for the expensive retrofits required for municipal sewer systems, leaving open the question of how much of the TMDL taxpayers will have to fund.
- Developers already holding federal storm water discharge permits will likely have to rejigger their plans to accommodate the additional costs from the TMDLs — costs they did not budget for when they finalized plans for their projects.
- Broad new requirements for the use of infiltration devices — such as rainwater retention areas and other low-impact development techniques — will likely conflict with “smart growth” initiatives because the additional expense will drive projects away from urban areas.
- The EPA itself has admitted that the computer modeling used to propose pollutant loadings was defective and it has no plans to correct the figures until after the TMDL rule is finalized.
- Beginning next year, the rule will require every new construction project to offset its potential impact on the bay by purchasing credits from a trading program. While this has great potential for making significant cost reductions, such a program has yet to be developed.
“The Chesapeake Bay TMDL is about much more than just water quality,” Collett said. “It is about where people will live in the watershed and about how much new economic growth — to say nothing of new homes, schools or business — will be allowed. It’s imperative that the EPA do this right, but what the agency has accomplished so far is not right — not by a long shot.”
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.