James H. Lenhart, P.E., D.WRE, is chief technology officer for Contech Engineered Solutions. Lenhart can be reached at [email protected]
Jan 10, 2017

Happy New Era?

As we move into 2017 with the new Trump administration, there are many questions about what is in store for the environmental community and regulations over the next four years or so. Large-scale issues, such as climate change and associated regulatory actions, look as if they will be curtailed or even rolled back. Regulations that pertain to coal, oil and gas may be relaxed, resulting in increased offshore drilling, fracking, and the construction of oil and gas pipelines. Other than CO2 emissions, I am not so sure about the direction of atmospheric pollutants.

So what about storm water? No doubt about it, most aspects of storm water management are in a heavily regulated space. Fortunately, most of what we do is rooted in the Water Quality Act and there is little denial that many waters of the U.S. are polluted and there is a need and desire for fishable and swimmable waters. However, given a change in winds, what are some of the storm water-related issues that may be impacted and what can we do about it? Furthermore, are there any benefits that will come out of this new administrations given some broad assumptions about what could happen?

There are perhaps some fortunate consequences of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule-making for storm water not being implemented. The implementation of low impact development rules and regulations, i.e., managing water quality as well as quantity, was largely pushed down to permittees to regulate and implement. The end result of this is myriad state and local regulations that, to a large extent, will be outside the reach of a potential federal regulatory scythe.

One downside may be budget cuts that reduce grant funding for permittee projects or academic research. Perhaps active engagement by the municipalities, national associations and the academic community in activities such as Washington Water Week can help prevent this from happening.

One of the beauties and the beast of the Clean Water Act is the citizen lawsuit provision. Active environmental groups will undoubtedly increase the amount of litigation if regulations are being pushed back. However, this knife can cut both ways as other groups whose interest is to minimize storm water regulations or requirements, my find more “open ears.”

One benefit may be a renewed focus on rebuilding our infrastructure, which can provide a path to retrofit or redevelop existing infrastructure to meet water quality or volume goals. For example, bridge reconstruction can trigger the need to treat bridge deck runoff before direct discharge to a natural waterway. One aspect of this is that the professional organizations such as ASCE, APWA, ECOS and other water lobbies need to push the notion that stormwater and drainage infrastructure is just important as transportation, the grid, dam, levees etc.

We also need to make the case that caring for the environment can not only cost jobs but create jobs as well, in addition to reducing health care costs and many other side benefits that have been documented to occur with effective environmental practices. Though carbon sequestration may take a back seat to industry vitalization, perhaps part of changing our trade deals may be to require that all companies importing products into the U.S. meet the same environmental and human resource standards. This in itself can move us toward both competitive pricing and a cleaner environment for all.

In closing, using the old adage of “think globally, act locally” may become more important than ever.