The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a broad and complex mission to control air and water pollution, hazardous waste, chemicals, radiation, and a wide range of other environmental hazards. Does that include rain?
Apparently so. The EPA has proposed a new initiative to “rein in the rain,” as Americans for Prosperity aptly puts it. The agency is proposing requirements “including design or performance standards, for stormwater discharges from, at minimum, newly developed and redeveloped sites.” No later than November of 2012 the EPA says it will publish final regulations controlling “stormwater runoff.”
To me, that looks like treating the symptoms, rather than the causes, of the outrageous impacts of rain. Apparently rain has a tendency to create water on the ground and on buildings, which then runs in a downhill fashion toward streams, rivers, and ultimately oceans. Clearly that cannot be allowed to continue unchecked, at least not without some regulation to insure that the water runs off correctly, meaning in smaller amounts. But if the government is truly concerned about too much stormwater, and its disastrous propensity to run downhill, wouldn’t it be smarter to regulate the rain itself?
The new regulations may dictate the design of roofs, parking lots, streets, curbs, gutters, storm drains, pipes, and a host of other construction features involving drainage. Notice that the intent is to regulate such facilities for new construction “at minimum,” meaning they may also decide to implement new regulatory standards for already existing cities, towns, neighborhoods, roads, and even homes. You may have thought you were merely letting rainwater run off your place, but no – you are “discharging” it. On purpose. You need an EPA permit for that.
The cost of implementing such new federal regulations on every new development in the United States can only be guessed, but will be staggering, and unnecessary. Instead, I think the government ought to go directly to the source of these problems and regulate rain. All this expense on individual developments would be unneeded if it didn’t rain so much to begin with, so why treat symptoms and not the cause?
If you are skeptical of the government’s capacity to regulate a natural phenomenon like rain, you are clearly not paying attention. Research over the past few years, upon which many government programs now rely, focuses on the astounding ability of people to change the weather, and even the overall climate of the Earth. EPA is moving into regulation of naturally occurring gases like carbon dioxide (perhaps we will soon be required to stop breathing) precisely because our lifestyle is said to affect the weather. Another case of treating symptoms, not causes. So why not focus all these regulatory efforts directly where it would count the most and simply make it rain less where stormwater is an issue, perhaps redirecting that rain to areas where it is needed, such as the arid West?
It is not clear how long the reign of the current federal regulators may last, but maybe while they’re in power they will figure out how to rein in the rain – before it’s too late.