Four of the nation's largest homebuilders have agreed to pay $4.3 million in fines for failing to control runoff at construction sites in 34 states and the District of Columbia, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department announced Wednesday.
The four companies — Centex Corp. of Dallas, KB Home of Los Angeles, Pulte Homes Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and M.D.C. Holdings Inc. of Denver — also agreed to take steps above what is required by law to keep 1.2 billion pounds of sediment out of the nation's waterways.
"Dirt can pollute. The bottom line is this: Whatever ends up on the ground at a construction site can be swept into the nearest waterway," said EPA Assistant Administrator Granta Nakayama.
Rain can carry contaminants such as dirt, stucco, paint and other materials from construction sites into storm drains and nearby waterways, where the silt can clog fish gills, smother fish eggs and block sunlight from plants, Nakayama said.
The settlements are part of a nationwide crackdown by the EPA to find storm water violations at construction sites.
The Clean Water Act requires builders that disturb land to obtain permits and minimize runoff from rain. The companies named in the settlements allegedly failed to obtain permits before clearing land for subdivisions and to prevent silt and debris-laden runoff from leaving 2,202 construction sites from 2001 to 2005.
The states with the most sites covered by the settlements are California, Florida, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.
Centex Corp. agreed to pay the largest fine, at $1.485 million. KB Home was penalized $1.185 million. Pulte Homes Inc., along with a $877,000 fine, will complete a $608,000 project to reduce the amount of sediment entering a northern California stream. Federal prosecutors levied a $795,000 fine on M.D.C. Holdings Inc., the parent company of Richmond American Homes.
Seven states that joined in the settlements — Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee and Utah — will receive a portion of the penalties.
The agreements filed Wednesday must be approved by a federal court and undergo a 30-day public comment period before becoming final.
The four companies, in a joint statement, said that they were pleased with the agreements. Together, they build 100,000 homes every year, federal officials said.
"As leaders in the homebuilding industry, we share the government's goal of protecting and preserving clean waterways," the statement said.
The National Association of Home Builders said the settlements with some of its larger members were a positive step that will be used as a model for other homebuilders.
"Clear rules — and understanding how to follow them — enable builders to help protect the environment while keeping housing affordable," said NAHB spokeswoman Donna Reichle.
In February, the agency fined Home Depot Inc. $1.3 million to resolve alleged violations at 30 construction sites for its big box stores in 28 states. But the largest settlement to date was with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which in May 2004 agreed to pay $3.1 million for violations at construction sites across the country.