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Last week, EPA released a proposed rule that greatly expands its regulatory reach over bodies of water in the United States while ignoring its effects on small businesses. The Washington Post reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Tuesday that would give the federal government regulatory authority over millions of acres of wetlands and about 2 million miles of streams.
The proposal, which is subject to a 90-day comment period slated to begin in a few weeks, would lead to stricter pollution controls on some of these areas and aims to resolve a long-running legal battle over how to apply the Clean Water Act to the nation’s intermittent and ephemeral streams and wetlands.
The proposed rule expands the definition to cover wetlands, intermittent streams, and “ephemeral” steams—those that exist for only a short time after a rain or snowmelt. These bodies of water were previously not part of EPA’s jurisdiction. The definition also includes man-made bodies of water like ditches, ponds, and canals.
EPA claims its definition will clear up confusion as to what small streams and wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act. However, critics see it as putting more regulatory burdens on farmers, homebuilders, contractors, foresters, and small towns without considering the effects on them.
Last year, in a letter to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Bill Kovacs, Senior Vice President, Environment, Technology and Regulatory Affairs for the U.S. Chamber wrote:
Extending the Clean Water Act to so-called “ephemeral” streams and other non-jurisdictional areas would impose strict new requirements on regulated entities across the country. Small businesses and small communities are likely to be among the hardest hit by the definition change.
Small businesses would face “stringent new permitting requirements and use restrictions.” “Historically, obtaining a permit to develop in jurisdictional wetlands can take longer than 12 months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Kovacs wrote.
Despite the obvious additional burdens, Kovacs’ letter points out that EPA didn’t gather feedback from small businesses and communities who would be affected by the regulations as required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act. The agency simply deemed that the proposed rule will “not have a significant economic impact” on them.