NPDES II: Just Another Unfunded Mandate

Sept. 1, 1999

Those familiar with the July/August 1999 issue of Erosion Control will appreciate why a project without an erosion control plan is like a fish without a gas mask. Faster than you can say “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System,” NPDES Phase II will be here, and with it the opportunity for erosion and sediment control professionals to garner new business as well as provide valuable goods and services to help others meet its strictures. No doubt there are people who have never given a thought to erosion control, much less what the latest update to the Clean Water Act has in store for them, and more than a few will be scrambling for help. “Good for us,” you say, and so it should be. But there’s another side with darker implications that we need to be aware of and prepared to address at every opportunity.

How many of us have heard that NPDES is another in a long line of environmental programs designed to stifle development? How many of us would like to have to fight the accusation head-on? Historically, many of EPA’s mandates have risen from an activist agenda in which the ends were allowed to ride roughshod over the means. Thus, it is not surprising to find suspicion and even outright opposition to any of that agency’s new regulations no matter how obvious its merits might appear. That’s a real challenge for all of us; one that won’t disappear on its own accord.

Because it’s likely that the majority of the public hasn’t a clue that NPDES II exists (much less what it says), don’t bank on finding support for the program in the face of the opposition guaranteed to arise as those parties impacted by the new regs begin to feel its bite. In fact, expect to find it a lot easier to sell your goods and services in the marketplace than to get the public to buy into the belief that they’re truly needed.

All the effort we put forth in our professional lives tends to mask the deeper appreciation for the fact that no matter how hard we work or how good a job we do, our efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to the enormity of the task at hand. This isn’t to demean your substantive accomplishments in pursuit of the trade; rather, it’s to point out the fact that erosion control is a public enterprise, with you as its standard-bearers.

No matter what your occupation, selling is the first order of business, and to be successful you have to know both your product and the buyer. Both are relatively easy to define at the project level, but I’ve come to believe that the time spent talking concepts and issues with others in seemingly nonbusiness venues is as crucial to our long—term success as drafting BMPs. In rallying just one new person to our cause—in this case, the belief that NPDES II enactment is an important process in promoting environmental sustainability and producing life cycle cost benefits to projects within its jurisdiction-not only will we have removed a possible opponent from the lists, but we’ll have created the potential for exponential growth on the support side.

“OK,” you say. “What do I have going for me in this battle?” It begins with considering that you are your community’s expert in erosion and sediment control matters, and your neighbors should darned well look to you as a spokesperson for the importance of NPDES II. In capturing other people’s attention, it never hurts to think about what made you interested in the subject in the first place and how you became involved. Consider that whatever it was that got you excited might have a similar effect on others. While I’m not a great fan of zealotry, I’ve found enthusiasm to be a pretty good ally. If all else fails, a few facts and figures on the condition of local water resources will do wonders for the cause. So get out there and recruit support for NPDES II before all the fish need gas masks.
About the Author

John Trotti

John Trotti is the former Group Editor for Forester Media.