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Policy Matters

Will Clean Water Act foes leave small businesses high and dry?

The Environmental Protection Agency doesn't have an easy job. Just look at its work to protect clean water. Earlier this year, the EPA announced a draft "Waters of the U.S." rule to clarify which bodies of water are protected under the Clean Water Act. Some in Congress, and some business groups — but not all — immediately began attacking.

The reaction to the rule's announcement was predictable, if disappointing. Opponents argue that it represents a land grab by the EPA that will kill jobs and put our agricultural system at risk. Some members of Congress propose legislation to block the rule from being implemented, even before the comment period ends in October.

Is what's good for water bad for business?

So it might surprise you to learn that 80 percent of small business owners actually support that proposal. Yes, that's right: four out of five small business owners think it's a good idea for the government to protect clean water.

That's just one thing the American Sustainable Business Council found when it recently commissioned a scientific poll of small business owners nationwide. And while the poll's findings definitely contradict the media narrative around these clean water rules, they shouldn't be the least bit surprising.

The ASBC poll shows just how seriously small business takes clean water. When asked for their views on clean water regulations, 71 percent said they were necessary for economic growth and job creation, compared to only 6 percent who said they were job-killers. When these businesses owners heard both sides of the argument, 60 percent still supported regulations over deregulation.

One number in particular is worth noting: Those who supported the EPA's proposed water rule included 78 percent of self-identified Republicans. (Of the entire sample, a plurality — 43 percent — identified themselves as a Republican, or leaning Republican.) Many policymakers attacking this proposal are Republicans; but the truth is that protecting clean water should be a bipartisan issue.

That's because so many industries rely on clean water, such as tourism, agriculture, food or drink production, clothing and even technology. Clean water is an essential ingredient for them, and without it, they cannot function. You only need to look at businesses such as New Belgium Brewing Company or TS Designs, both of which gave testimony on Capitol Hill in support of clean water protections.

Even industries that don't rely directly on clean water would suffer if it were no longer available. For example, tourism in the U.S. generated $2.1 trillion in direct and indirect economic impacts last year, supporting nearly 15 million jobs. Without clean water protections, a lot of those jobs could vanish. In that case, the suffering wouldn't be limited to just a few businesses. The entire economy would take a hit. And that's just one example.

Listen to small businesses, tell the EPA

It's time to stop pretending that regulations to protect our water and air are naturally incompatible with economic growth, or that the business community is only interested in continuing to strip away those protections. Those protections are in place precisely to make sure the economy keeps growing.

There are other economic benefits, such as improvements to public health and flood preparation — those easily outweigh the rule's costs, according to the EPA. But the most important benefit is the simplest: making sure small business can keep operating, growing and creating more jobs. Small businesses, the job creation engine of our economy, know just how important this resource is, and why it needs to be protected.

So take a moment to thank the EPA. (Sending the agency a comment in support of the rule would be one way to do that.) Small business certainly will.

Top image of water and cracked earth by Yuriy Kulik via Shutterstock.

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