The Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to expand the reach of the Clean Water Act will increase the cost of new homes without a corresponding benefit to America's lakes, rivers and other water bodies, the National Association of Home Builders said this week.
While NAHB has long asked for the rules, EPA's proposal goes too far, the builders' group said.
"EPA was told to make changes to the rule so that everyone understands exactly when a builder needs a federal wetlands permit before turning the first shovel of dirt," said Kevin Kelly, NAHB president and a home builder and developer from Wilmington, Del.
"Instead, EPA has added just about everything into its jurisdiction by expanding the definition of a 'tributary', even ditches and man-made canals, or any other feature that a regulator determines to have a bed, bank and high-water mark," Kelly added. "It's a waste of taxpayer resources to treat a rainwater ditch with the same scrutiny as we would the Delaware Bay."
According to the NAHB, expanding federal authority under the Clean Water Act would greatly increase the number of construction sites required to obtain appropriate permits, which will also result in the delay or impede construction projects.
Moreover, additional permits will burden the current exorbitant backlog of permits ranging between 15,000 to 20,000, NAHB said.
Enacted in 1987, the Clean Water Act continues to be a source of confusion for both regulators and those subject to regulation, and just what land should fall under federal, as opposed to state or local, permitting authority, Kelly explained. It was originally designed to provide federal protection to navigable waters and those used for interstate commerce, but the limits of that protection were never clear.
Kelley said that the new definition doesn't just affect home builders. Farmers and ranchers could also feel an impact on their business practices. Even home owners could need wetlands permits before doing landscaping projects if regulators determined that their land included a 'tributary' and thus subject to federal oversight.
"It's clear to us that this new proposal is not at all what Congress intended when it told EPA to clarify its jurisdictional reach," Kelly said.
"The agency needs to go back to work on this," he added. "We need to protect the environment with a carefully crafted rule, not this hurried, catch-all attempt. Adding this layer of regulation makes the land development process more expensive and time consuming. That's bad news for home buyers and for the economy."