The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new proposal to the Clean Water Act that would change the EPA's definition of "waters of the United States" limiting the types of waterways that fall under federal protection. In 2015, the Obama administration widen the definition to not only large waterways, but also the smaller streams and tributaries that feed into them. The EPA estimates that the new rule would save as much as $164 million in regulatory costs for industries such as homebuilding, mining, manufacturing, energy, and agriculture.
Citing federal overreach and protecting private property rights, the EPA proposes to simplify the definition of waterways subject to federal environmental regulation and limits regulation to waterways that hold water in a "typical year." Many farmers were concerned that the Obama-era definition was so broad that they obtained expensive and time-consuming permits to farm on their own land. Farmers spent thousands of dollars on engineers and attorneys to determine if they needed federal permits. Under the new proposal, waterways no longer protected by the Clean Water Act would be overseen by individual states.
Currently, it's not clear for developers which wetlands are federally protected and which aren't. Under the EPA's proposal, the only wetlands that will be federally protected are those that are adjacent to a major body of water, or ones that are connected to a major waterway by surface water. It's expected that millions of acres of wetlands would lose federal protection under the proposal. The new proposal would open up new land for development, oil and gas drilling, and mining.
The proposal is now in the 60-day comment period. Environmental groups have already said they are planning legal challenges to the new proposal worried it increases pollution and threatens the safety of drinking water. Although the new proposal states it will be returning power to the states, thirty-six states have laws that prevent them from implementing stricter regulations than the federal government's. This one will take some time to finalize.
Across the Pond
The United Kingdom announced it will be introducing new laws aimed at reforming workers' rights and providing new employee protections. The "largest upgrade to workers' rights in a generation" include new measures such as a statement of rights that must be provided to workers on their first day, detailing their eligibility for sick leave, pay, and details of other types of paid leave, such as maternity and paternity leave. Workers would also be given the right to request more predictable hours.
Zero-hour contracts, where an employer does not have to offer work and an employee has no obligation to work, will not be banned under the new legislation. Instead, the government said zero-hour contracts, agency workers or "gig economy" workers will be better protected by the package of workplace reforms. We will keep track of this issue for when the new legislation is formally introduced.
Making Our Way Around the Country
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law four new safety bills this week regarding school bus drivers. In response to a school bus crash that killed a student and teacher, the laws aim to prevent more bus accidents from happening. The new laws require permanent and substitute school bus drivers and aides to take safety classes twice a year; requiring that when a school bus driver in the state has had their license suspended or revoked, the local school board or bus driver must verify to the state Department of Education that the driver no longer operates a bus for them; and to comply with federal safety regulations. The final law now requires bus drivers to submit a medical report, with those over 70 years old to submit proof every year and those over 75 to submit proof every six months. In August, Gov. Murphy signed a law that requires all New Jersey school buses to have lap and shoulder seat belts.
South Carolina pre-filed a new bill that would modify the requirement for first responders to claim post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Currently, the state law covers mental illness or injury if the conditions of their employment result in "extraordinary and unusual" instances of mental anguish. The bill would remove the condition of "extraordinary and unusual." The 2019 legislative session begins January 8.
As we close 2018, we truly thank you for your support, readership, and feedback all year. Today marks the end of our third year, and it is our absolute privilege to bring you The Way each week. We are off next week for the holidays. We will be back on January 2, as we begin our fourth year of reporting to you from the intersection of governmental affairs and the risk and insurance industry. From all of us here, we wish you and yours the best for the holiday season and hope that you are already on your way to a healthy and prosperous New Year.