The EPA and Me

I was recently re-elected to my third term in local government, to a position that provides deep satisfaction through genuine public service. As an additional reward, I've gotten to know many local, state, and federal politicians on a personal level and now consider myself a truly informed voter.

Unfortunately, the following email apparently is a portent of a different kind of "reward" headed my way for being civic-minded enough to want to serve my community.
The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to submit a proposed Information Collection Request (ICR) and is requesting public comment ... 

To find out more, go to   This site includes a fact sheet, the Federal Register Notice and the questionnaires.

Please, take time to review these documents and consider commenting. This survey is 32 pages long, has 72 questions and is expected to take 53 hours of your time. It is a mandatory survey.  
Whoa!  I don't have time to read a 32-page survey with 72 questions just so I can comment on how patently ridiculous it is for the federal government even to consider placing this burden on local governments. We have very limited staff. Is the EPA really going to send us a mandatory survey that will take 53 hours to complete?

You betcha -- unless someone in Washington stops them. For the life of me, I can't figure out who that would be.

I followed the link, read some of the documentation, and discovered that the EPA will be demanding detailed information on storm water runoff and pollutants that discharge into waterways. To my relief, they're not requiring the surveys be filled out just yet, and may not require them until November 2012, just after the next presidential election. (Isn't that the timeframe for implementation of health care reform, too? What a coincidence). 

For now they are awaiting the mandatory sixty days after an October 26 notice in the Federal Register that they are sending this Information Collection Request to the Office of Management and Budget.  In the meantime they are accepting comments on this proposed "request" for information, including comments on the burden it will place on those required to fill out the survey. 

A mandatory request?  That reminds me of Obama's mandatory volunteer youth service brigades.  In my lexicon, require and request have diametrically opposed meanings.  Apparently that is not the case when communicating in government-speak, where it becomes increasingly impossible to discern the true meaning of what is said.

I went to the EPA's linked fact sheet and found additional information that these surveys will not be required only of local governments. Private property owners and developers will also be caught in their net.
The mandatory questionnaires will be sent to all owners, operators, developers, and contractors of newly and redeveloped sites; owners and operators of municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s); and the states and territories.
They define newly and redeveloped sites as things such as subdivisions and commercial shopping centers. In other words, just about any disturbance of the earth, residential or commercial, whether to build new or to renew a previously developed area. And the questionnaire will add an estimated 53 hours of professional time and expense to every single project. Or is that 53 hours of the owner's time, and 53 hours of the developer's time, and 53 hours of the contractor's time, and 53 hours of the local government's time? I couldn't be sure.

Back on the home page I noticed this:
EPA intends to propose a rule to control storm water from, at minimum, newly developed and redeveloped sites, and to take final action no later than November 2012.
It's looking worse by the minute. That "at minimum" seems to hint that you won't even have to disturb the soil to earn their oversight and 53 hours of filling out surveys. We shall all share in the pain. 

I can't imagine any good coming from all this forced data reporting.  Is Carol Browner, Obama's EPA chief with socialist ties, planning on using us to glean information in order to advance the administration's environmental agenda?

Lest anyone think of taking this "request" for information lightly, the questionnaire for local governments states the following on page 3:
EPA has authority to administer this questionnaire under section 308 of the Clean Water Act (Federal Water Pollution Control Act, 22 U.S.C. Section 1318). Participation in this questionnaire is mandatory, and you are required to respond. You must retain a copy of the completed questionnaire for your files. EPA may contact you with follow-up questions to clarify your answers. Late filing of the questionnaire, or failure to follow any related EPA instruction, may results in civil penalties, criminal fines, or other sanctions provided by law including the possibility of fines and imprisonment. [Emphasis in original.]
The EPA will give me 60 days before declaring my return late and moving onto those civil penalties, criminal fines, and imprisonment -- all over bureaucratic paperwork. EPA bureaucrats have hearts just brimming with compassion and good will.

My governmental entity will probably fall under the umbrella of our local conservancy district, which may help provide some of the background information necessary for us to fill out the survey. Or maybe the conservancy district will fill it out for us for a fee, or maybe we can hire someone to fill it out.

But why? Why must local governments and private citizens incur this cost and expend this effort to facilitate bureaucratic snooping and advance the left's environmental agenda? With all the money they've been throwing around lately, they could at least pay for their heavy-handed requirements. A little stimulus money would help financially strapped small government agencies, but that isn't part of the agenda.

Just so there is no misunderstanding, I lean pretty green when it comes to clean air and water, and I deal with residents with flooding problems from ill-planned development and poorly uncontrolled runoff on a regular basis. I know there are environmental boundaries that have to be maintained, but this is clearly outside the parameters of acceptable oversight. The environmental movement has become so radical as to be an easily identified hazard to American life, and the EPA is not on my list of favorite agencies. The final straw came when they threatened fines because our firemen washed their fire engines in a building that didn't have the right kind of drain.

This isn't how a democratic (Democrat, apparently yes; democratic, no) government treats its local governments and private citizens. Threatening criminal fines and jail time over mandatory, uncompensated 53-hour surveys is criminal itself. 

Nancy Brown is a township trustee in Clark County, Ohio.
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