INSIGHT: Trump’s clean water rule will bolster local infrastructure
The new Waters of the United States rule released Jan. 23 by the Trump administration is a big deal for the economy and many industries like mine that deal with infrastructure, development, and agriculture.
Sand and gravel, also known as aggregates, are the most mined materials in the world. Aggregates are the chief ingredient in asphalt pavement and concrete and are used in every road and public works project, as well as nearly all residential, commercial, and industrial building construction. Aggregates are also used for many environmental purposes, like treating drinking water and cleaning air emissions from power plants.
Aggregates are a highly local product, and due to high weight and expensive transportation costs, proximity to market is critical. Seven out of 10 counties in the U.S. are home to some form of aggregates operation.
The aggregates industry removes materials from the ground and then processes and crushes them so they can be used for construction material. Hazardous chemicals are not used or discharged during removal or processing of aggregates. When aggregates producers are finished using the stone, sand, or gravel in an area, they return the land to other productive uses, such as residential and business communities, farmland, parks, or nature preserves.
Water regulations affect aggregate deposits
Why are water regulations so important? Because many aggregate deposits were created by water, they are often located near water sources such as rivers and lakes. We view water as precious, and carefully design our plants so we can reuse our water supplies. My company operates most of our facilities as no-discharge systems, keeping all process water on-site. All stormwater that drains onto our sites is carefully managed and much of it is recycled by our wash plants.
In 2015, the Obama administration and the EPA implemented the new “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule that allowed federal agencies to regulate most bodies of water across the country. That jurisdiction didn’t just include lakes and rivers; it allowed the federal government to regulate our pits and areas that rarely had water such as ditches, gullies, and wet weather conveyances in the same way as it regulated streams that you could paddle a boat.
This isn’t just an inefficient use of resources; it’s operationally burdensome to infrastructure operations, as well as America’s farmers, builders, manufacturers, and other businesses who rely on clear and uncomplicated clean water rules to earn their livings.
Federal government regulation of these areas, like pits, floodplains, upland headwaters, and ephemeral streams increases red tape and slows down the ability for small businesses like mine to implement environmental practices sooner. For example, it would raise the cost of materials needed for everything from paving our roads we drive on to purifying the water we drink.
More than half of U.S. economy impacted
WOTUS rules impact more than half of the U.S. economy across numerous sectors—everything from the food we eat to the products we make; the road, bridges, homes and offices we build; and the health of our communities. Industries directly impacted by WOTUS rules generate more than $9.7 trillion of economic activity, which is more than half of the $18.7 trillion in GDP generated by all private industry.
Overreaching regulations, like the 2015 WOTUS rule, increase the costs and timelines for local infrastructure projects, like the building of roads and bridges. They also affect the production of critical resources such as sand, stone, and gravel. Local access to those resources is critical to keep down the high costs and environmental impact of shipping those materials long distances.
The previous administration claimed this rule was needed because so many waters were unprotected, but that is not true. Small bodies of waters weren’t unregulated before 2015; they were being managed just fine by local and state governments.
I care tremendously about being a good steward of the environment. Stewardship is one my company’s core values, along with humility, relationships, and continuous improvement. I also care about the hundreds of employees who work alongside me every day, who rely on their jobs to pay medical, school and housing bills for their families.
This past MLK Day, I joined hundreds of my fellow workers to volunteer in cleaning up parks and roads in Memphis as part of the National Day of Service. That’s because we care about our community and it’s a simple way to demonstrate our core values.
The new WOTUS rule continues to protect our nation’s water but provides clarity on several key exclusions such as ponds built on dry land, pits and basins associated with mining, and streams that only convey water after storm events. This change puts regulation of these waters back into the hands of local governments, which protects the environment but also the local economies and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Alan Parks is the vice president of Memphis Stone & Gravel Company, a geologist, previously for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, a member of the National Stone Sand and Gravel Association, and a member of the Waters Advocacy Coalition.