Kerrville man sees 'WOTUS' wash away at hand of president
Kerrville’s Granger MacDonald became one of the first people to congratulate President Donald Trump after the signing of an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin rescinding or revising the “Waters of the United States” rule, otherwise known as “WOTUS.”
MacDonald, a home builder and developer based in Kerrville, serves as chairman of the National Association of Home Builders.
He spent a week in Washington, D.C., attending meetings on Capitol Hill and was invited to the White House to attend the ceremony to watch Trump sign the executive order.
The NAHB had spearheaded efforts to address industry concerns about former President Barack Obama’s executive order on regulatory, legislative and judicial fronts.
According to its critics, WOTUS, enacted by Obama in April 2014 as part of the 1972 Clean Water Act, redefined the term “navigable,” and gave the federal government jurisdiction over all the water in the country.
Additionally, WOTUS required landowners, as well as homebuilders, to obtain permits for construction projects, application of pesticides, grazing cattle and performing other routine maintenance on their land.
These permits could take up to a year to receive.
When Obama signed the executive order enacting WOTUS, U.S. District 21 Representative Lamar Smith characterized the act as “beginning a new era of government control over private property.”
“Over the last year and a half, the E.P.A has continually ignored the legitimate concerns of states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, farmers, landowners and business owners who will be impacted,” Smith said.
He continued, “While the agency has been frantically working to regulate the trickle of small streams in Americans’ backyards, the EPA has failed at its core mission to protect the environment and is responsible for a toxic spill that polluted waterways impacting at least three different states.”
‘Make home building great again’
Trump’s executive order directed EPA and the Corps to “reconsider” an aspect of the original rule that dramatically extended the areas in which home builders are required to get permits — which, according to the NAHB, usurps state and local regulatory authority.
Two courts, including the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, have already ruled that WOTUS is likely illegal and had issued a temporary halt to its implementation.
Additionally, the WOTUS rule has been legally challenged by more than 30 states and numerous environmental groups on both procedural and substantive grounds, according to a NAHB press release.
Recalling his meeting with the president, MacDonald said, “I looked right at him and said, ‘When you talked to our board in August, you promised that you would fix this. On behalf of our 140,000 members, thank you.’”
Trump replied, “I bet you thought it would be at the end of four years and not right away, right?” The president then adapted his signature campaign refrain, promising MacDonald, “We’re going to make home building great again.”
Last August, Trump, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, had addressed a meeting of the NAHB board of directors in Miami. During his presentation, Trump vowed to cut WOTUS and other burdensome regulations that, he said, drives up the cost of homes.
Trump quoted a 2016 NAHB study that indicated 25 percent of the cost of a home is due to regulations.
“NAHB commends President Trump for listening to our serious concerns about the flawed WOTUS rule that goes so far as to regulate manmade ditches and isolated ponds on private property,” Granger said. He added, “This is an important first step toward reworking the flawed regulation and moving toward a more sensible WOTUS rule.”
Describing his personal exchange with Trump, MacDonald said, “When you only get five or 10 seconds to say something, you’ve got to run at it as straight as you can when you see the opportunity.”
The ceremony also afforded MacDonald an opportunity to talk to Vice President Mike Pence, who, as governor of Indiana, established productive relationships with members of the Indiana Builders Association.
“The vice president is a very commonsense individual and definitely a friend of home building,” MacDonald said.
Additionally, before the president’s arrival at the Feb. 28 ceremony, MacDonald spoke with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, characterizing the exchange as “a good, long visit.”
During the conversation, MacDonald emphasized builders’ respect for the environment, while noting the necessity of cost-effective, commonsense regulations that, when applied, neither hurt small businesses nor curb economic growth.
NAHB — ‘at table, not on menu’
“Conversations like these, as brief as they may be, speak to the value of NAHB membership,” MacDonald said. “When the president says he’s going to make home building great again, that’s important.”
“NAHB looks forward to working with the administration, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and, when approved, the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works to develop a commonsense solution to protecting our nation’s waterways while taking into account the interests of local businesses and communities nationwide,” MacDonald continued.
Pointing out that leadership of the NAHB was invited to the White House within the first 40 days of the Trump administration assuming office, MacDonald noted, “Whether our members support Trump or not, we’re right in the middle of it — where we need to be. You are either at the table or (you’re) being served on the menu. We’re at the table.”