EPA Cracking Down on Storm Water Permit Enforcement
Home builders around the country are discovering that ignoring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for federal storm water permits and Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans can be harmful to their fiscal health.
The EPA has made the permits a national enforcement priority and is throwing more resources at compliance. When Wal-Mart paid $3.2 million in penalties and was required to institute extensive storm water management education programs within its development division, it made the headlines. Now, home builders are being slapped with big fines as well.
A developer in Pelham, N.H. paid $137,500 for storm water management infractions. An El Paso, Texas home builder paid $5,500; home builders in Iowa have paid a total of $295,000. And in West Fargo, N.D. 17 home builders in one subdivision are having to comply with EPA requests for information on every lot on which they’ve built in the last five years, including the names of all their subcontractors.
“If they’ve even been to West Fargo, then no one is safe,” Marolyn Parson, NAHB’s director of environmental policy, told a group of 200 builders, developers and engineers at a Nov. 30 seminar sponsored by the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association.
NAHB representatives have been crisscrossing the country at the invitation of HBAs hoping to bring their members into compliance with the EPA regulations, which became more stringent in 2003. Now, a developer must obtain a storm water permit if one or more acres are disturbed, but home builders must get a permit for a lot of any size that is part of a subdivision of one or more acres.
Only 30% in Compliance?
Estimates vary, but the EPA believes that perhaps only 30% of builders are in compliance with the law, Parson said. Getting builders to comply is complicated for a number of reasons. First, many home builders are unaware of the requirement or believe it only applies to developers. But when the lots are sold to the builder, the builder takes on the responsibility of obtaining the permit and of keeping the pollution prevention plan up to date.
Second, information about the fines being levied and the kinds of infractions on which the EPA tends to focus has been limited and anecdotal. NAHB has been unsuccessful in attempts to obtain the facts and figures from the agency despite filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Those details would enable the association to do a better job of educating its members on this issue, Parson said.
Third, it can be time-consuming to keep the forms up to date, have the inspections completed and keep other requirements current. “I think it requires a corporate mentality that says you will do things the right way,” said J. Anderson Frix, a Northern Virginia engineer. “You have to keep construction logs anyway, so I don’t see it as that onerous. You just incorporate it into the process.”
In Virginia, EPA storm water permits are now administered through the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, which sent representatives to the builders association seminar to walk members through the process.
General storm water permit applications must be accompanied by certification that the applicant has completed a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan. Virginia inspectors — as well as EPA representatives — can visit job sites to determine if the home builder or developer is following the plan as described, keeping silt fences well maintained, conducting periodic inspections of the site and recording the results, and making sure that subcontractors are following pollution prevention practices.
Small Builders Not Exempt From Scrutiny
The EPA is targeting larger home builders, as well as big commercial developers, in its enforcement efforts. But smaller home builders are not exempt from scrutiny. The federal agency and the states that administer compliance enforcement programs are seeking to educate the industry, but if they have to issue penalties to ensure compliance, they will.
“I would rather have a close, cooperative working relationship, but I’m only going to work with you for so long,” Eric R. Capps, erosion and sediment control and construction permitting manager for Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, warned the Northern Virginia builders. The department will provide any instructions needed to complete a pollution prevention plan and to go through the permitting process, he said, but if a home builder doesn’t comply, “I’m going to turn it over to enforcement and be done with you.”
NAHB has compiled extensive guidelines and information on storm water management at www.nahb.org/stormwater. The popular NAHB publication, “Storm Water Permitting: A Guide for Builders and Developers,” including a CD of regulations for all 50 states, will be available starting Dec. 12 from BuilderBooks.com and at the International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Fla., in January.
Click here to see EPA guidelines on completing a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan.
For more information, e-mail Marolyn Parson or Kimberly Porter at NAHB, or call them at 800-368-5242 x8157 and x8662, respectively. Porter also is seeking comments from NAHB members who have dealt with the EPA or their own state authorities on storm water compliance issues.
For a related story in this issue on how to ensure compliance and avoid fines by coming up with a good Storm Water Pollution Protection Plan, click here.
Ready for a Visit From the EPA?“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. To view or purchase this publication online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.