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At first glance, EPA Waters rule keeps concrete plants’ CWA exemptions

Sources: National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, Silver Spring, Md.; Environmental Protection Agency; CP staff

In their early reading of the final “Waters of the U.S.” rule, or Clean Water Rule the EPA and U.S. Army jointly announced late last month, NRMCA Government Affairs staff cite exclusion of certain ready mixed concrete plant aspects, but are reviewing the document for more specifics on industry impact and producer compliance measures.

The final rule is in a pre-publication form; once an official version is released, provisions will become effective in 60 days. Agency officials contend that the Clean Water Rule: ensures waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry; is grounded in law and the latest science, and shaped by public input; and, maintains all previous CWA exemptions and exclusions.

“This is a generational rule and completes another chapter in history of the Clean Water Act,” said Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “This rule responds to the public's demand for greater clarity, consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional determinations."

The federal government has traditionally defined CWA subjects as “navigable” waters. According to NRMCA Government Affairs staff, the Clean Water Rule expands EPA and Corps of Engineers jurisdiction over navigable and non-navigable waters further upstream—potentially threatening current and future activities on or near those covered areas, including concrete plants.

The EPA and Army announcement drew pointed response from NRMCA allies. “Members work diligently to protect our nation’s water resources, following existing federal, state and local laws. This rule will add significant costs to aggregates producers with little or no environmental benefit,” said National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association President Michael Johnson. “The increased costs and delays will be passed along to the taxpayers through a higher price tag for infrastructure projects.”

"This rule will impact a wide range of normal U.S. industrial and agricultural activities at a time when workers are just getting back on the job after eight years of tough economic times," added Portland Cement Association President James Toscas. “We take environmental compliance very seriously. This rule will make it much more difficult for a cement production facility not only to comply, but also to even know whether it is in compliance. We also foresee construction projects being delayed and stalled as contractors struggle to figure out how to comply with complex new requirements that go far beyond anything Congress intended with the Clean Water Act."

In response to Clean Water Rule opposition, the U.S. House passed bipartisan legislation requiring regulators to work with states, industry, and other stakeholders to develop practical ways to protect water quality. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate. "[The rule] is yet another example of government overreach that is unlikely to help the environment, but very likely to hurt the economy. Congress is right to send EPA back to the drawing board on this one," Toscas observed.

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