Just the thought of new environmental regulations can make
people groan. Nobody wants to breathe dirty air or drink toxic
water, but government policies to protect the planet can be unnecessarily
expensive - especially for those who can least afford it.
Environmental regulations need not ravage our pocketbooks.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not always
understand this notion, but the Bush Administration does. This
is especially fortunate for poor Americans who don't have much
money to spare (and who disproportionately are minorities).
During the Clinton Administration, EPA officials proposed new
regulations governing storm water runoff that characterized the
agency's inability to understand the budgetary restraints of the
American people. The EPA's proposal to increase existing standards
regarding post-storm runoff of everything from oil and pesticides
to dog feces would require new construction projects to include
things such as permanent ponds.1 Not only would this raise costs
in the short term, but it would also require permanent maintenance.
These measures would reportedly reduce all mud - toxic or not
- in storm water drains by 80 percent, but they certainly would
reduce the economic independence of hundreds of thousands of hard-working
It's not clear the one-size-fits-all style the EPA advocated
at the time would lead to cleaner water. Common sense dictates
that towns in the Arizona desert face different runoff challenges
than New York City suburbs. Uniform regulations fail to account
for such subtleties.
Additionally, and most important to the average American, is
that the old EPA leadership's proposed mud policy would add $3,500
to the price of a new home.2 This $3,500 increase could force
more than one million lower-income Americans completely out of
the housing market.3 In particular, it would stem the rising tide
of black homeownership, which recently rose to a record 6.1 million
black households owning their own homes.4
It would not likely be any better for renters since landlords
would likely pass on regulatory costs through rent increases.
These economic concerns led the Small Business Administration,
Office of Management and Budget, Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD), Department of Transportation and the White
House Council of Economic Advisers to all criticize the EPA's
proposed storm water runoff regulation. HUD Assistant Secretary
John C. Weicher said, "The effect on the rental market is
likely to make it harder to achieve the national housing goal
of a decent home for all families, and the effect on single-family
homes is likely to make it harder for young families to buy their
By the way, we already pay for storm water regulations. All
existing regulations factor into new home prices to the tune of
approximately $5,000. The National Association of Home Builders
estimates the regulatory costs of building a house in three major
metropolitan areas - Cincinnati, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
and Santa Fe, New Mexico - tripled between 1974 and 1994.6 A main
factor driving housing cost increases includes environment-related
regulations such as sewer and water fees and storm water runoff
Despite already charging consumers thousands of dollars for
storm water regulations, the EPA wanted to impose further restrictions
that would yield, in the words of Small Business Administration
Chief Counsel for Advocacy Thomas M. Sullivan, "questionable
water quality benefits."7
These concerns led the Bush Administration to set aside plans
to implement these burdensome storm water runoff regulations.
Current EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman instead proposed
a new policy that relies on states, local governments and the
contractors themselves - those most familiar with their neighborhoods
- to determine their own polices. By allowing those who know how
to keep individual stormwater drains clean, the Whitman EPA has
found a less costly, less burdensome and more effective plan.8
This compromise is an embodiment of "compassionate conservatism"
the Bush touted while campaigning for the White House. It is a
solution that protects the environment without ravaging the pocketbooks
of hard-working families.
The Bush White House deserves praise for listening to local
concerns and, at least in this instance, not imposing needless
regulations that drive Americans, especially the poor and minorities,
away from achieving the American Dream of homeownership.
Syd Gerntein is a research associate of The National Center
for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments
may be sent to SGernstein@nationalcenter.org.
1 "Bush Administration Lets Construction
Companies Off the Hook for Protecting Environment," National
Resources Defense Council, Washington, DC, May 24, 2002, downloaded
from http://www.nrdc.org/bushrecord/water_pollution.asp#589 on
July 1, 2002.
2 Wes Vernon, "How White House Kept EPA
From Socking Your Neighborhood," Newsmax.com, May 25, 2002,
downloaded from http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/5/24/171034.shtml
on July 1, 2002.
3 Wes Vernon, "Bush Regulators Save Home
Buyers from $3,500 Penalty," Newsmax.com, May 24, 2002, downloaded
on July 1, 2002.
4 David Almasi, "Giving With One Hand,
Taking Away with the Other: Competing Government Policies Both
Promote and Deny Homeownership Opportunities for Minorities,"
New Visions Commentary, Project 21, The National Center for Public
Policy Research, Washington, DC, April 2002, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/P21NVAlmasiSprawl402.html.
5 Vernon, "How White House Kept EPA From
Socking Your Neighborhood"
6 Angela Antonelli, "Regulation: Demanding
Accountability and Common Sense," Issues '98: The Candidate's
Briefing Book, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC, downloaded
from http://www.heritage.org/ISSUES/98/chap3.html on July 1, 2002.
7 Vernon, "How White House Kept EPA From
Socking Your Neighborhood"
8 Brian Johnson, "Contractors Upset by
EPA's Proposed Runoff Regulations," Finance and Commerce,
August 28, 2001, downloaded from http://www.finance-commerce.com/recent_articles/010828a.htm
on July 3, 2002.