Builders scored a major victory at the end of 2018 when the Trump administration released its proposed new definition for the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. This revised rule is a welcome reprieve from the 2015 WOTUS definition, which was confusing and a huge encroachment of federal authority.
From the moment the 2015 regulation was proposed, NAHB fought it with our typical vigor. We engaged legislators and regulators, emphasizing how this rule was inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent and congressional intent. We also played a vital role in litigating WOTUS-related cases in the court system.
The administration heard us loud and clear. This proposed new WOTUS definition fulfills President Donald Trump’s commitment to the NAHB to end the 2015 rule. One of his earliest acts in office was to sign an executive order directing the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin to repeal and replace the previous definition. This action honored a campaign promise he made to the NAHB Board of Directors in 2016 when he was running for president, and we offered critical insight as the proposal was being developed.
The new definition would provide much-needed clarity regarding which waters fall under federal oversight. This would help accelerate the permitting process, which in turn will allow home builders to more easily provide affordable housing. As our nation deals with a major housing affordability crisis, we need these types of reasonable, common-sense regulations that do not unnecessarily raise home prices.
The revised rule would address many of the serious concerns that NAHB had with the 2015 regulation that went so far as to regulate man-made ditches and isolated ponds on private property. This proposal would exclude short-lived ponds, streams, and tributaries that only flow in response to a rain event, and it also would exclude all ditches unless they satisfy the conditions of an otherwise jurisdictional water. The rule would exempt wetlands that are not directly connected to federally regulated bodies of water, and it would help landowners determine whether a project on their property will require a federal permit without spending a lot of money on engineering and legal consultants.
NAHB CEO Jerry Howard spoke at an event at EPA headquarters where Andrew Wheeler, acting EPA administrator, and R.D. James, assistant secretary of the U.S. Army for Civil Works, announced the new WOTUS definition. The proposal is now open for public comment and EPA expects it to be finalized and instituted in all 50 states by fall 2019. In the meantime, because of multiple legal challenges, the Obama-era WOTUS rule remains in effect in 22 states and the District of Columbia, and the previous regulations issued in 1986 are in effect in the remaining 28 states.
It was an honor and a privilege to work with NAHB members nationwide on the WOTUS regulation and other important advocacy issues during my year as chairman. Thanks to your hard work and local activism, we helped foster a pro-housing climate that will benefit home builders and homeowners alike for years to come. I have greatly enjoyed serving as your chairman, and I wish incoming chairman Greg Ugalde the best of luck as he steps into this role.