Remember when the Ninth Circuit Court decided that logging roads were a point-source of pollution? I've been wondering about, though not following the fall-out from, that case. Does this mean every logging road will need a stormwater permit? Well, not if Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) have their way.
The Northwest congressional leaders today announced a “forest roads protection” bill that would set in stone the law that was in place *before* last year's court ruling. They want to make sure private forest lands and their logging roads remain "non-point" pollution sources, as opposed to the kind that need federal permits under the Clean Water Act. They say making the timber industry go through an extra permitting process is too expensive and unnecessary – despite what the Ninth Circuit Court concluded.
A press release from Herrera Beutler says the court ruling "reverses 35 years of Clean Water Act regulation" and treats forest roads as if they were factories or industrial parking lots. She says the rules that were in place before the court decision were stringent enough to protect the environment:
“Many private forest-related businesses have told me that if this ruling stands, they’ll say ‘enough is enough’ and shut down their business. Such closures would have a devastating impact on Southwest Washington’s economy and its workers. This legislation respects 35 years of Environmental Protection Agency regulation, and retains strict, science-based oversight of forest roads. I’m pleased to join my Republican and Democrat colleagues in supporting this vital jobs bill that allows for sustainable management of our private forests.”
Chris Winter at the Crag Law Center explained why his office took the Oregon Department of Forestry to court over the issue in the first place. He said on some logging roads rainwater flushes dirt and gravel on into ditches, culverts and channels that dump directly into streams that are otherwise relatively clean. The excess sediment hurts habitat for salmon and other aquatic life. The new rule would only apply to active timber hauling roads that discharge directly into a waterways through a culvert, pipe or ditch, according to this letter from the Environmental Protection Agency.
"The actual set of roads this applies to is much narrower than the timber industry makes it sound like," said Winter. "Before people start tinkering around and creating loopholes in the Clean Water Act, I think the EPA should have a chance to develop a permit system that works for everyone."
Winter said he thinks the proposed legislation is "an awful idea" that "attacks and undermines the Clean Water Act." But regardless of what happens to that bill, he's expecting the timber industry to appeal the Ninth Circuit decision to the Supreme Court.