Friday, June 14

“Waters of the United States” Rule Pits EPA against Small Business Administration

The Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy is clashing with the Environmental Protection Agency over the agency’s “Waters of the United States” rule.

The EPA hopes that the rule will help clarify which smaller bodies of water (like streams and wetlands) that the agency is responsible for regulating under the Clean Water Act. The Agency website states that jurisdictions for streams and wetlands became unclear following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

The SBA, however, argues that the proposed rule would give federal regulators jurisdiction over water even on private property, like ditches and pastures, and put undue strain on small businesses by forcing them to meet regulations.

According to a letter sent by the SBA to the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the rule would have “a direct and potentially costly impact on small businesses.” The Office of Advocacy is also arguing that the EPA didn’t fully research the rule’s impact on small business and that it should withdraw the rule until the full impact has been analyzed by a review panel.

Many business groups have argued that the rule will be too expensive for small businesses to comply with it, but the letter marks the first time a federal agency has gone after the controversial EPA rule. However, the criticism is in line with the SBA Office of Advocacy’s purpose, which is to ensure that federal agencies consider small businesses when making new rules.

The SBA’s recommendation can’t force the EPA’s hand, but it does give credibility to arguments against the rule. Several green groups have spoken out in support of the rule as a way to maintain clean water in the U.S., but several businesses, especially farm groups, have raised concerns. Complying with EPA regulations would be an added expense for farmers and potentially damage their profits. This is especially true since farms are also at the mercy of the building inspection industry, which employs about 33,464 people.

According to American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, the SBA letter was an appropriate response. “The SBA’s frankness may surprise some, but it does not surprise us,” Stallman told The Hill. “The EPA has been heedless and cavalier in its disregard for the American farmers who would be most affected by this unworkable proposal.”

In response to the letter, EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia released a statement emphasizing that the rule “is a definition and creates no new requirements for small businesses or any others,” and that “Clean water is just as much about healthy economies as it is about healthy people. Our proposal will ensure that the thousands of businesses across the country, ranging from hunting and fishing to the high tech sector, continue to have access to clean water that they depend on.”

The EPA will hear comments about the proposed rule until Oct. 20 before deciding whether or not to move the regulation forward.

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