Forestry | Ecotrope

Kitzhaber on logging roads: Let's ask the Supreme Court

Ecotrope | July 25, 2011 10:12 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:36 p.m.

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Some forest roads channel muddy water directly into streams, where the sediment can damage habitat for salmon and other aquatic life. Do logging roads need stormwater permits? After being sued by environmentalists who say yes, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber says he wants the U.S. Supreme Court to decide.

Some forest roads channel muddy water directly into streams, where the sediment can damage habitat for salmon and other aquatic life. Do logging roads need stormwater permits? After being sued by environmentalists who say yes, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber says he wants the U.S. Supreme Court to decide.

Do logging roads need water pollution permits? Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said yes. Last week several members of the Northwest congressional delegation said no.

Today, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said he wants the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the case, which stems from a Northwest Environmental Defense Center lawsuit against the state of Oregon.

In a news release, the governor said he disagrees with “portions of” the Court of Appeals ruling and is worried it will create “economic, social and environmental instability” for the state. The court shouldn’t determine water quality rules, he said. That’s the job of the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Oregon. Moreover, he said, it’s too late to challenge the Clean Water Act … like 34 years and eight months too late:

“The Clean Water Act stipulates that challenges to rules adopted to implement the act must be brought within 120 days of the adoption of the rule,” Kitzhaber said. “Allowing a challenge to proceed now, in one state, 35 years after the rule’s adoption, throws the timber industry and agencies into confusion; upsets established expectations; and will lead to different rules in different parts of the county – contrary to congressional intent.”

Although improvements in water quality are needed, the governor said, this lawsuit isn’t the right way to achieve them:

“I’m not arguing with the outcome sought by the plaintiffs in this litigation: to improve forest road management and curtail impacts that result in harmful discharges to streams and degradation of water quality and fish habitat,” said Governor Kitzhaber. “However, we are at a point in the history of our management of forest lands where we need to develop stability, consensus, and collaboration, not management by lawsuit. Dramatically expanding citizen lawsuits risks accelerating the conversion of our forest land to development, costing us both in terms of harvest revenue and environmental values, as well.”

I find it a tad paradoxical that the governor is asking a court to decide that courts shouldn’t decide on clean water policy. But he also noted that he wants to try this route before federal lawmakers attempt to pass a bill that would reverse the Ninth Circuit ruling:

“Before seeking a legislative solution we should fully explore an administrative resolution of the issues created by the Ninth Circuit’s decision, including approaches that improve water quality while minimizing or avoiding the requirement for individual permits.”

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