The 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, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Beginning next month, EPA will start placing stricter limits on the amount of pollutants in storm water legally allowed to leave a construction site after a rainfall and require that water be virtually free of soil or sediment. “That’s a standard that no builder, anywhere, can consistently expect to achieve – and EPA’s own studies show it’s not the answer to reducing pollutants in our nation’s waters,” said NAHB Chairman Joe Robson, a builder and developer in Tulsa, Okla.
A year ago, 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 construction sites, 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 jobsite 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 more difficult – and in some cases impossible – to meet on smaller lots and in urban redevelopment, severely hampering “smart growth” projects and transit-friendly building.
“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 EPA did not take our suggestions,” Robson said.
At the same time it finalized these onerous requirements, EPA also announced it was developing yet another rule to address storm water discharges from development.
“With all of the existing rules and voluntary steps our members are already taking to improve the quality of the nation’s waters, it is uncertain what might be gained from this additional and costly layer,” Robson said.
NAHB is continuing to study the final rule and any supporting documentation, he said.