U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is winning praise from local forestland owners for co-sponsoring legislation that would undo a 2010 federal court ruling requiring logging companies to get discharge permits for runoff on logging roads.
The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August undid years of federal Clean Water Act policy by declaring that runoff from forest roads must be treated the same as runoff from such “point sources” as factories and parking lots.
Under the ruling, private forestland owners would be required to obtain a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit covering runoff from forest roads.
In response, Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, teamed with Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., earlier this month to introduce a “forest roads protection bill” that would treat logging roads on private land as “nonpoint” pollution sources that do not require additional permits.
“Many private forest-related businesses have told me that if this ruling stands, they’ll say ‘enough is enough’ and shut down their business,” Herrera Beutler said in announcing the legislation. “Such closures would have a devastating impact on Southwest Washington’s economy and its workers. “
Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, have introduced similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.
“I commend the bipartisan, bicameral group of members led by Congresswoman Herrera Beutler and others for reinstating a sensible and effective 35-year program for water quality protection that also protects family-wage jobs in the forest products and related sectors,” said Mike Draper, president of the Western District of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, in a statement.
Application of the 9th Circuit decision across the region would bring forest management to a halt and destroy local economies, Draper said.
The 2010 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit came in a lawsuit filed by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center against then-Oregon State Forester Marvin Brown and the Oregon Department of Forestry involving two logging roads serving Oregon’s Tillamook State Forest. The plaintiffs argued that the department should be required to obtain an NPDES permit for stormwater runoff from the roads because the sediment in the runoff is a pollutant regulated under the Clean Water Act.
The ruling has “potentially sweeping implications,” according to an analysis by the Portland law firm Stoel Rives. “If broadly read, this opinion would require NPDES permits for every road in the country that is served by ditches or culverts that eventually discharge to natural surface waters and that is not already regulated by the CWA.”
The Washington Forest Protection Association warned of a regulatory nightmare if the federal court ruling is allowed to take effect.
“If forest owners are forced to treat the hundreds of thousands of drainage pipes and ditches on their property as if they were outfalls from factories releasing toxic chemicals into the nation’s waters, the individual monitoring requirements would be so costly that it would threaten the viability of the very forests that the 9th Circuit claims to be protecting,” said spokeswoman Cindy Mitchell.
Rick Dunning, a Clark County tree farmer, said the additional regulation “is especially unnecessary and burdensome for Washington family forest owners, who currently must comply with the most stringent forest practice rules in the nation.”
Under the state’s Forests and Fish rule, forestland owners already are required to develop comprehensive road maintenance and road abandonment plans, Dunning said.