EPA Waters Rule Threatens Small Businesses

Date: May 19, 2015

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) recently proposed a rule that will greatly expand federal Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction over small businesses and private land owners. NFIB is fighting to stop this regulatory land-grab, but we need your help. Please let us know how this regulation will impact your business.

Tell Us Your Story

NFIB Key Voted in support of H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015, which passed the House by a vote of 261 to 155. This legislation would provide relief for small businesses by sending the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Agencies) back to the drawing board on its problematic Waters of the United States rule. On May 19th, NFIB Legal Center Elizabeth Milito testified before the Senate Small Business Committee on the impact of the Waters Rule.

Waters of the US - NFIB Infographic

Download the PDF version of the infographic.

What are EPA and ACE proposing?

The EPA and ACE have proposed to change the Clean Water Act’s definition for “waters of the United States.” Though traditionally limited to navigable waters, and adjacent waters, this new proposal would classify lands as waters of the United States if—at any point during the year—they have any water overflow. The new rule would bring seasonal streams, ponds, ditches, depressions in fields, and large puddles into the CWA’s jurisdiction. 

NFIB supports Section 105 to H.R. 2028, the FY2016 Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. This provision would provide important regulatory relief from an unprecedented effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Agencies) to expand federal authority over private property.

How am I affected by federal jurisdiction?

If EPA and ACE assert jurisdiction over your land, it will be essentially impossible—or at least tremendously expensive—to do anything with your land. This means you will not be allowed to alter land formations, which prevents landowners from digging or excavating on their properties, or even laying gravel. While it is possible to obtain a special permit to begin using portions of land covered by the CWA, these permits are extremely expensive. CWA permits can cost tens of thousands of dollars; if not more—a major U.S. Supreme Court case from 2006 cited the average cost at $270,000. There are inevitably long waits for permit processing, and there is no guarantee your permit will be approved.

The penalties for violations of the Clean Water Act can be up to $37,500 per day.

Does EPA and ACE have the authority to propose these changes?

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it made clear that the CWA protects “waters of the United States.” The courts have understood this to mean traditionally navigable waters, but the precise reach of CWA jurisdiction is a point of controversy. The Supreme Court has taken the issue up three times, and it still remains a murky question. But what is clear is that EPA and ACE cannot expand their jurisdiction beyond what the limitations the Supreme Court has recognized in those cases. Accordingly, NFIB takes issue with the proposed jurisdictional expansion here because EPA and Army Corp are seeking to expand CWA jurisdiction beyond what the Supreme Court has allowed in the past—and in contravention of a 2006 Supreme Court decision.

Did the agencies adequately consider the impact of this change on my small business?
Regrettably, they did not meet this obligation legally required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act. EPA is alleging that since this is a simple definition change, there are no major costs directly imposed on small businesses. There will certainly be costs directly imposed on small businesses through the permit process and other compliance requirements. In addition, the proposed rule makes it clear that many waters will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis, therefore providing little, if any, additional certainty.

The agencies say that most farms are exempted by the rule. Does this rule affect my farm?
It absolutely does. There are some exemptions from the CWA’s dredge and fill requirements for prior converted cropland. However, many types of farming activities would still trigger compliance. For example, the use of pesticides on a field newly-defined as a water of the U.S. could be subject to regulation.

Important Links

Tell your Member of Congress to support HR 1732 to stop the change to the Waters Rule

Read the proposed rule 

Download NFIB’s comments on the Waters of the U.S. Rule. Part 1 | Part 2.

In November 2014, NFIB's Dan Bosch wrote an op-ed in The Hill on the waters rule, "Bad Public Policy Hinders Small Business."

Read NFIB’s Letters to the White House regarding the Waters of the U.S.:

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