Nov 13, 2014 - 6:00pm

4 Industries That Will Feel the Pain from Federal Water Rule


Senior Editor, Digital Content

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CSX train
Photo credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg.

Farmers and home builders know that doing business will drastically change for the worse if the new definition of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) goes into effect.

For farmers, they fear they “may not be able to weed and feed your lawn, spray for bugs, landscape with treated lumber and wood chips, fill in a low area with soil, or even dig a hole without” a federal permit. 

For home builders still recovering from the Great Recessions’ housing market collapse, the new water regulations will mean added costs and uncertainty. As a Missouri home builder told the House Small Business Committee, “Builders would face new, costly delays just waiting for the agencies to determine if a road ditch is a ‘Water of the United States.’”

They're not alone. From retail stores to gravel companies to railroads, many other industries will be harmed by this federal overreach. Here are four examples taken from comments to federal regulators from the U.S. Chamber and 375 other trade associations.

1. Retailers

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Costco parking lot
Photo credit: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg.

If retailers salt a parking lot in the winter to keep customers from slipping on the ice it might need a federal permit:

Retailers, shopping centers, and other businesses with paved parking lots will be more likely to be required to treat their stormwater/snowmelt runoff before it leaves their property. For example, “big box” retail stores with garden centers or vehicle maintenance services are particularly likely to face more stringent Clean Water Act permitting required by EPA and the Corps. In some cases, these businesses would be required to obtain NPDES permits for the first time for discharges to WOTUS.

2. Building Materials Makers

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Saw cutting wood
Photo credit: Ty Wright/Bloomberg.

Wood product manufacturers and other makers of building materials produce dust and dirt that washes into ditches next to their plants. WOTUS would make these companies need a federal permit to clean out those ditches:

Materials used in their products like sawdust, clay, and dust, can get into their stormwater and, ultimately, into their ditches. These ditches must periodically be cleaned out so they can flow properly. Currently, most of these ditches are regulated by the States through the section 402 stormwater program. Under the revised WOTUS definition, they would likely have to obtain section 404 permits to remove clay sediment from these ditches when maintaining them. Requiring building products companies to get section 404 permits for ditch maintenance would be a costly, time-consuming mandate that puts additional economic stress on the industry (as well as on the construction industry) while doing nothing to actually improve water quality.

3. Sand, Stone, and Gravel Production

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Gravel pile
Photo credit: Hanson via Bloomberg.

The raw materials for sand, stone, and gravel are often located near water. More stringent federal rules could limit the availability of these supplies. Not only would these industries be hurt, but “the construction of highways, public works, and residential and commercial building projects would be seriously impacted.”

4. Railroads

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CSX train
Photo credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg.

Railroads maintain ditches along the 140,000 miles of track running across the country. For instance, grass needs to be cut and brush removed after storms. WOTUS would make maintenance a federal issue:

Railroad ditches may be WOTUS under the proposed rule even if they are dry nearly all of the year, or are not hydrologically connected to a traditional WOTUS. As one company has noted, “we have thousands of miles of ditches which could suddenly become subject to onerous regulation with absolutely no benefit to the environment.”

And if a bridge passes over a newly-declared water of the U.S., repairing it will likely need a federal permit too.

As Bill Kovacs, the U.S. Chamber’s senior vice president for the Environment, Technology and Regulatory Affairs, in a press statement, “EPA’s revision of the definition of ‘waters of the U.S.’ would expand its regulatory jurisdiction to almost all waters of the U.S., including ditches, ponds, and streams….” It will “make it even more difficult to create opportunities and jobs in this country.”

EPA should crumble up WOTUS and start over from scratch.

About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.