As a parent and grandparent—and as a home builder—I think that it is important to safeguard our nation’s natural resources and do everything possible to ensure their quality now and for future generations.
However, I also believe that the actions we take to protect and safeguard the environment must be sensible and cost effective. Equally important, they should be based on sound science and have verifiable benefits.
That’s why I was very pleased last summer when the EPA was forced to withdraw a key portion of new stormwater management regulations for the construction industry in order to devise new ones based on better research.
The action was the result of a lawsuit filed by the NAHB and the Wisconsin Builders Association and petitions filed by both the NAHB and the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy asking the agency to revise its new Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs) for the construction and development industry.
Both the NAHB and SBA charged that the limit on the amount of permissible sediment in stormwater was arbitrary and based on flawed analysis. Moreover, our own analysis showed that trying to achieve that numeric limit would cost up to $10 billion annually, more than ten times the EPA’s original estimate of $953 million. Ultimately, we said, the ELGs imposed by the EPA would hurt small businesses and make housing less affordable. There also would be little additional environmental benefit, as the EPA admits that the guidelines would control less than one quarter of 1 percent of total sediment runoff. And it appears likely that builders would not be able to actually achieve the level of turbidity units specified in the guidelines.
After reading the NAHB’s brief, the U.S. Justice Department asked the EPA how it could defend the numeric limit. In turn, the EPA conceded that the final rule was flawed and that the agency had improperly interpreted some data.
As a result, the Justice Department filed a motion with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals asking it to vacate the numeric limit and place a hold on the litigation until 2012 while the EPA goes back and develops a numeric limit that builders can actually achieve.
Until then, even though the latest action removes the numeric limit, the other requirements of the construction and development ELGs remain in place.
There’s no question that by forcing the EPA to take a hard look at the facts and admit its error, the NAHB scored a major victory for home builders and home buyers nationwide.
Finally, as I mentioned at the outset, it is important for all of us to remember that even though we may disagree with the EPA on specific items, the NAHB supports responsible development and the goals of the Clean Water Act. And we will continue to work with state and federal regulators to keep our waterways clean.