New Storm Water Rules Ineffective and Burdensome
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced new storm water management requirements for builders that don’t effectively address water quality and environmental issues but do promise to place significant burdens on the home building industry and result in higher costs for home buyers.
Beginning next month, the EPA will begin to place stricter limits on the amount of storm water legally allowed to leave a construction site after a rainfall and require that water to be virtually free of soil or sediment. The rules will be implemented over the next four years as states apply for reauthorization of their construction general permitting programs.
“That’s a standard that no builder, anywhere, can consistently expect to achieve — and the EPA’s own studies show it’s not the answer to reducing pollutants in our nation’s waters,” said NAHB Chairman Joe Robson.
A year ago, the EPA proposed rules that for the first time incorporated so-called Effluent Limit Guidelines for the construction and development industry. The agency released the proposal under a court order after a lawsuit filed by an advocacy group argued that builders, whose “discharges” under the Clean Water Act are the result of rainfall and sediment running off the construction site, should be treated like commercial and industrial enterprises, which discharge water and chemicals via pipelines.
The guidelines set out requirements without regard to the type of soil on the job site and how likely it is to absorb excess rainwater. The “turbidity” limit — the amount of sediment in the water — does not take into account the natural turbidity of nearby streams or other water bodies. And the rules require stepped-up state enforcement, but no accompanying guidance on how to monitor compliance or money to pay for the additional administrative and inspection costs.
Further, the additional requirements are harder — and in some cases impossible — to meet on smaller lots and in urban redevelopment, severely hampering “smart growth” projects and transit-friendly building.
“The EPA specifically asked for, and NAHB provided, significant comments and alternatives that would meet these important goals at a lower cost and with less red tape, so we’re quite disappointed — and frankly, bewildered — that agency did not take our suggestions,” Robson said.
The rule is the latest in a series of actions expected to have a dramatic effect on storm water permitting. Last month, the agency submitted an Information Collection Request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval to send three different questionnaires to the construction industry, municipal sewer authorities and state governments.
In its request, the EPA estimated that the questionnaires would take an estimated 53 hours per respondent to complete.
If approved by the OMB, builders and developers selected by the agency would be required to complete a 61-page document that asks for detailed information about company finances and the costs per project for land, engineering, site clearing and other capital expenses.
NAHB is continuing to study the final rule and any supporting documentation, he said.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.