Is Small Business Getting a Dirty Deal With Clean Water Act Changes?

mud puddle water public domainWhen we’ve watched our elected officials and pundits go hammer and tong over laws in recent years, the documents being debated have usually been hundreds or thousands of pages in length, like the Affordable Care Act or the recent net neutrality regulations.

With those battles as a backdrop, it seems almost quaint that one of the most contentious arguments being fought by public policy makers right now is language contained in just a handful of paragraphs. The document is a “clarification” from the Environmental Protection Agency that further defines which bodies of water come under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

People on both sides of the debate agree that clarifications are in order. For years, courts have handed down rulings that don’t always seem to align with one another. However, what EPA officials call a clarification, critics are calling a “power grab” at best and a “land grab” at worst.

More power to bureaucrats

“The (new) rule will extend federal bureaucrats’ reach into every corner of the American economy, affecting small businesses of every type, including those involved in, among many others, oil and gas production, mining, homebuilding, and agriculture,” says Karen Kerrigan of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.

It’s not just our country’s water quality that is being threatened, she writes, “but so too the constitutional balance between the federal and state governments. The result is more litigation and greater bureaucratic control from Washington, putting small businesses and state regulators at the mercy of courts and federal bureaucrats”

Originally, “navigable waters” were mainly covered by the Clean Water Act. The EPA’s new definition of “Waters of the United States” that fall under its regulatory control include:

  • All tributaries.
  • Adjacent waters,
  • Wetlands, and
  • Other waters.

Terms like all, adjacent, wetlands and other immediately send up red flags for anyone who works where dirt might be moved, crops planted or buildings constructed. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how these can be interpreted to mean virtually anything that gets wet…ever.

The importance of housing

We are just beginning to breathe a little easier after the housing market crash, and so much of our economy depends on new home construction. Not only does it provide jobs for building professionals, new homes must be fitted with new kitchen appliances, window coverings, furniture and much more. The benefits of a robust housing industry are manifold.

Already, Kerrigan points out, government regulations account for some 25 percent of the price of a new single-family home. In many areas of our nation, this new definition from the EPA could significantly increase that figure.

Last year, the House passed the “Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014,” but it was never taken up by the Senate. Currently, there are hearings in the Senate on the issue, but it is uncertain if any legislation will be forthcoming.

This is an issue you should follow with your representatives and perhaps bring up when it’s election time and your local politicians start holding “town hall meetings” around their districts.

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