U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-1) asked witnesses Thursday who testified before a Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee whether they have experienced hardships on their permitting process with the EPA when it comes to endangered species. Witnesses affirmed that they had experienced hardships and in some cases, the financial expense was significant:
“Today, two witnesses from areas outside of Arkansas confirmed that the EPA permitting process with respect to endangered species that reside in bodies of water that they utilize had significantly impacted their municipalities,” said Crawford. “I believe this shows the need for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to undertake a full economic study of the impacts that a proposed critical habitat designation (“CHD”) would have on areas such as municipalities as well as private land owners.”
Witnesses who expressed such designations impacted their municipalities in an adverse way included Mr. Steven Meyer, Director of Environmental Services City of Springfield, Missouri. Mr. Meyer was representing the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. Also included was Mr. Ron Poltak Executive Director of the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. Mr. Poltak was representing the Association of Clean Water Administrators.
When asked what their experience was in obtaining an EPA permit concerning a body of water that they utilized for wastewater treatment, the witnesses relayed the significant financial costs that would affect rate payers in an area of rural Missouri, as well as the complexity and costs associated with compliance in the New England area.
Congressman Crawford: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I have a quick question of all of you. In my district in Arkansas we are struggling with a critical habitat destination that will affect 41% of the state. As you can imagine there are a lot of small cities and towns, a lot of municipalities concerned about how that will impact them and obtaining permits. I am just wondering from each of you if you can comment, if you have had any experience with obtaining permits from the EPA because of an endangered species or the potential of an endangered species that resides in a body of water. For example a river that you might utilize for discharge after treatment, any comments on that?
Mr. Meyer: Since we are neighbors, we have similar problems. [Our DNR] is trying to implement ammonia to protect muscles. Missouri is unfortunately muscle rich and we have plenty of them. Some of the communities, some of the smaller communities will see increases from $32.75/month to $354/month just to address ammonia for muscles. This is a community that has 155 residents, 45 connections. They have absolutely no way to pay for it. The permit was issued.
Mr. Poltak: Representative, we have had a lot of experience associated with that type of issue. It is a long, costly negotiated process to get to an end point. I would be glad to put my staff in touch with yours and follow up to any level of detail you might be looking for in that regard.
Earlier this year, Rep. Crawford held a field hearing with Rep. Doc Hastings, Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, to hear from individuals who expressed concern about what the proposed Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot Mussel critical habitat designation would mean to private property owners and to the general public. In March, Rep. Crawford, joined by the entire Arkansas delegation, introduced H.R. 4319, the Common Sense in Species Protection Act.
“The Common Sense in Species Protection Act will ensure that a true economic impact study on the people, businesses, and municipalities in the proposed area will take place before any private or public property is put in a Critical Habitat Designation,” said Crawford. “The testimony we heard today points to the financial burden individuals will be exposed to as a result of a critical habitat designation process that fails to take in to account the financial burden that would be imposed on municipalities and rate payers as a result of the EPA having the comply with the Endangered Species Act.”
In accordance with a rule adopted in 2013, the federal agencies involved in determining the economic impact of a CHD, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, now only consider the cost of federal agencies consulting with other federal agencies, basically the cost of paperwork. Based on that assumption these agencies often claim minimal economic impact will occur when creating a CHD. The Common Sense in Species Protection Act does not interfere with or change the listing process, nor does it suggest protecting species as threatened or endangered is inappropriate. The legislation simply requires agencies involved in declaring a CHD to perform a true economic impact study that examines the impact on the people, businesses and municipalities in the proposed area, and requires the Secretary of the Interior to consider the economic costs when adding specific areas to a listing’s Critical Habitat Designation.
“I believe my bill, if enacted, would serve as a firewall between federal agencies and individual rate payers who will be exposed to potentially higher monthly bills as a result of there being no real economic analysis being made or considered before an area is included in a designation,” said Crawford. “This is the type of common sense reform we need in Washington and the kind of reform that will ensure that private land owners, rate payers, and municipalities will have a much lower likelihood of having to bear an unexpected financial burden as a result of excessive federal government interference.”
Currently, the bill has 14 cosponsors and has gained support among various state-based groups as well as national organizations that recognize the importance of requiring a full economic analysis before a designation is made:
• Arkansas Farm Bureau
• Arkansas Association of Counties
• American Farm Bureau Federation
• National Association of Counties