Regulators Hear Builder Concerns in Roanoke, Va.
A series of “listening sessions” with federal government officials this month and next is providing the home building industry with an opportunity to suggest improvements to environmental regulatory and enforcement programs.
The federal Cooperative Conservation program encourages the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce and Defense departments and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work more collaboratively with state and local agencies, nonprofit groups and those who are regulated, including home builders.
The Bush Administration announced plans for as many as 24 listening sessions nationwide over the next two months to solicit ideas and public support. Reforming both the Endangered Species Act and EPA’s storm water enforcement program are at the top of NAHB’s agenda.
So far, the sessions have featured senior-level Administration officials, including Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
At an Aug. 14 listening session in Roanoke, Va., five members of the Roanoke Regional Home Builders Association were among the attendees given three minutes apiece to speak. Additionally, eight NAHB members from Washington and Idaho attended the first listening session Aug. 11 in Spokane, Wash., where 300 people turned out to voice their concerns to both Kempthorne and Johnson.
Roanoke Executive Vice President Melody Williams said she was pleased with the HBA member turnout on such short notice; federal officials announced the dates less than a week before the sessions were launched.
Jurisdictional questions on wetlands and storm water management are on the increase in the Roanoke area, where builders are developing neighborhoods in valleys rimmed by the Appalachian Mountains. “How the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Quality are defining navigable waters are big issues for us,” Williams said. “We are in a mountainous terrain, so erosion and sediment control can be a real issue too, and of course there is a battle over who has jurisdiction over what.”
Williams said she was left with the impression that federal officials are looking for solutions, even if it means “getting out of the way” of local land-use decisions, as one EPA official told attendees at the Roanoke meeting. “I would encourage other associations to send members to attend if they have more time to rally their troops,” she said.
At the recent NAHB Executive Officer Council meeting in Connecticut, Executive Vice President Jerry Howard asked state and local leaders to make a point of attending a nearby session. “NAHB wants to tell top officials what is working and what is not — and how to fix it,” Howard said. “We must be active participants in these hearings. Your leadership and the involvement of our state and local associations in this effort are crucial."
NAHB action has worked well in the past, Howard said. The House of Representatives has passed comprehensive ESA reform legislation during this session and NAHB has secured support from key House members to introduce the Storm Water Enforcement Bill.
“We heard about these hearings on very short notice. But we know that they present the last good opportunity to influence this Administration to address the long-standing reform priorities of the home building industry,” Howard said.
Among the changes NAHB is advocating:
- ESA reform. Clear scientific and data-quality requirements should be a prerequisite for listing a species as endangered. “Too often, uneducated activists and other third parties petition the federal government to ‘list’ a species under the ESA, thereby halting both ongoing and future development. Our members won’t stand for this any longer,” Howard said.
The association also seeks firm limits on how and when the government can designate critical habitat. “The feds are not promoting effective conservation nor are they considering the economic impact of their decisions appropriately. And that doesn’t even begin to address the effect of these designations on our members’ ability to do business,” he said.
ESA changes are a priority in the Northwest, Harris said. “We’d like to see more emphasis on recovering, not just listing species,” he said. “There are no concrete, specific, measurable goals for getting creatures delisted, nor for designating critical habitats.”
- Stormwater permitting improvements. “Right now, we’re dealing with a labyrinth of confusing, expensive, contradictory and duplicative rules and regulations. It needs to be fixed,” Howard said.
“Developers and builders who thought they were complying with state and local storm water requirements find themselves subject to federal fines in the tens of thousand of dollars, often for recordkeeping or paperwork infractions that have no actual environmental impact at all,” he added.
“We must insist on a storm water program that yields superior environmental performance while eliminating the current disjointed enforcement and permitting process,” Howard told the state and local leaders.
Upcoming sessions include:
- Aug. 22: Redmond, Ore., 10 a.m.; Deschutes County Fairgrounds Expo Center — Directions
- Aug. 24: Omaha, Neb., 1 p.m.; Qwest Center, Omaha Convention Center, Junior Ballroom
- Aug. 26: Muncie, Ind., 10 a.m.; Horizon Convention Center, Exhibition Hall
- Aug. 28: Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 a.m.; The Carlson Center
- Aug. 29: Jefferson City, Mo., 1 p.m.; Runge Conservation Nature Center
- Aug. 30: Enid, Okla., 1 p.m.; Cherokee Strip Conference Center, Pioneer Hall — Directions
- Sept. 13: Redding, Calif., 9 a.m., Cascade Theatre — Directions
- Sept. 15: Colorado Springs, Colo., 9 a.m.; University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the Gymnasium
- Sept. 20: Brewer, Maine, 4 p.m.; Jeff’s Catering Banquet and Convention Center
- Sept. 21: Brunswick, Ga., 1 p.m.; Coastal Georgia Community College, Southeast Georgia Conference Center
- Sept. 28: Colton, Calif., 10 a.m., Colton High School Auditorium
There is no advance registration available for the sessions, and Williams encouraged members planning to attend to arrive early to get on the speaking schedule. Written comments can also be submitted at the Cooperative Conservation Web site by clicking here.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.