IN A GREAT VICTORY FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING, the EPA recently decided not to issue stormwater Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELG) that would have cost builders and consumers an estimated $3.5 billion per year.
The Clean Water Act allows the EPA to establish such guidelines to limit the amount of pollutants in “point source discharges,” including stormwater that is discharged from construction sites. Despite what their name implies, these “guidelines” are actually enforceable standards that must be met before construction can start at the site.
At a time when providing affordable housing for America's working families is becoming increasingly difficult, such new rules—which would have added about $1,700 to the cost of each new single-family home—would have pushed homeownership further out of reach for many families. Moreover, they would have imposed excessive and unnecessary regulations on developers and home builders.
When the new guidelines were first proposed, the NAHB's analysis showed they would have a very negative effect, and we quickly set out to convince the EPA not to adopt them.
Fortunately, the EPA made the right choice by recognizing the burden of added regulations and decided to follow the advice of the NAHB and other experts in the field, including state and local officials, who urged leaving the current stormwater permitting regulations unchanged.
The EPA already has comprehensive stormwater permitting rules in place to limit site runoff and protect the environment. Currently, Phase I and Phase II stormwater permits contain safeguards that limit the amount of pollutants in stormwater discharges from construction sites that disturb one or more acres of property. Confident in the strength of existing regulations, dozens of city, state, and county environmental agencies joined the NAHB and other advocacy groups in opposing the proposed rules. Not only would the new ELG regulations be burdensome, they argued, they would encroach on state and local land use planning authority and would adversely affect thousands of small business owners, including home builders and developers.
The NAHB and other groups also argued that local control over stormwater means that regulations can be tailored to specific environmental conditions and pointed out that local requirements are often more stringent than a national rule would prescribe.
The existing federal permits, combined with flexibility to regulate at the state and local levels, help guarantee that we can protect the environment while ensuring that all Americans have a safe, decent, and affordable place to live.
The administration's decision allows the EPA to focus on implementing its existing stormwater regulations and conducting more educational outreach to the small business and home building communities.
It's important to note that even though we opposed the new ELGs, the NAHB and its members are committed to defending the environment and working with the EPA to ensure compliance with existing stormwater permit regulations. Protecting the environment is a responsibility that we take seriously, and the EPA's recent decision allows us to do that in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.
To make compliance with existing regulations easier for members, the NAHB published “Storm Water Permitting: A Guide for Builders & Developers,” a comprehensive guide to the federal Phase I & II stormwater permitting program and the equivalent requirements for state stormwater permits. It is available to members at www.nahb.org, and copies will be distributed to all HBAs and available for purchase.
President, NAHB Washington, D.C.