EPA Delays 'Mud Rules' After Construction Industry Objects to Them as Costly, Unrealistic

The Environmental Protection Agency is withdrawing its latest proposed “numeric limit” on the amount of dirt the agency will allow in stormwater from construction sites after contractors complained that the rules could break the back of the ailing construction industry.

"In order to ensure that these standards to protect Americans' water quality from harmful pollution are flexible and achievable, EPA is collecting additional data from construction and development sites and other stakeholders before proposing them," EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said in a statement to FoxNews.com.

The EPA first proposed the numeric limit in an effort to protect the environment from the release of muddy water from construction jobsites. But contractors said the EPA wasn’t ready to impose a “one-size-fits-all” limit that exceeds legal requirements and could be impossible to meet. They also said the $1 billion cost of implementing a series of new controls included in the rules each year would be twice any benefits the public would receive.

“The fact that the EPA recognizes the serious flaws in the data supporting its efforts to impose a rigid, one-size-fits-all limit on the amount of dirt in rainwater leaving construction sites is encouraging," said Stephen E. Sandherr, the chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, an advocacy association for the construction industry.

“Unfortunately, the EPA is only seeking to delay imposing its new mud rule, instead of abandoning the idea all together,” he added. “In other words, this administration remains committed to the idea that protecting the Earth from dirt is more important than protecting the economy from costly, prescriptive and questionable new regulatory measures.”

The EPA did not return an email seeking comment.

The construction industry was hit hard by the financial crisis in 2008 and has yet to regain its footing. Businesses and unions have been pushing Washington for major infrastructure spending to create jobs.

At the same time, the EPA has been wrestling with stormwater discharges since 2004 when it first proposed a rule containing several options to control it from construction sites.

But instead of finalizing the rule, the agency, under the Bush administration, continued to allow state authorities to use their discretion in issuing permits -- a decision that led the National Resources Defense Council to sue the EPA.

Under orders from a federal court in California, the EPA issued a proposed regulation in December 2008 and finalized it in December 2009, when the Obama administration had taken over the agency.

The EPA said the regulation would cost nearly $1 billion a year, drawing complaints from AGC that the numeric limit of 280 would destroy contracting jobs and increase the unemployment rate above the then 18.7 percent.

The Small Business Administration sued the EPA, saying the limit could not be reached without acquiring expensive technologies and was based on flawed analysis.

The EPA ditched the limit last summer, acknowledging that the total cost of the regulation would be twice the benefits.The agency plans to issue a revised numeric limit by November 2012.

The EPA included the new series of controls as part of its proposal to revise the construction general permit. They were intended to reduce the dirt in the rain water and any melting snow that runs across construction jobsites.

But contractors said the EPA admitted it had no idea whether the technology it was forcing onto them would actually filter enough dirt out of the water, leaving them susceptible to $37,500 fines from the agency and lawsuits from citizens.

Sen. James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, has called for an oversight hearing on the agency's new stormwater regulation, which will be rolled out next month.

"The agency needs to explain to Congress and the American people why it insists on stifling economic growth, especially at a time when we most need new development and more jobs," he said.