The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday unanimously passed legislation that would undo a 2010 federal court ruling requiring logging companies to get discharge permits for water runoff on logging roads.
The bill, co-sponsored by 3rd District Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, has won praise from local forestland owners, who under the 9th U.S. Circuit Court ruling would be required to obtain a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit for stormwater runoff on those roads. This is the same permit required for water runoff from "point sources" such as factories and parking lots.
Following the ruling, the Washington Forest Protection Association warned of a regulatory nightmare if the ruling took effect. Local forestland owners said it would bring forest management to a halt, and that they already are required to develop comprehensive road maintenance plans under the state's Forests and Fish rule.
In December, President Barack Obama signed a one-year protection from the court ruling. The "forest roads protection bill" Herrera Beutler introduced would treat logging roads on private land as "nonpoint" pollution sources that do not require additional permits.
"We can preserve water quality and forest health, and we can do it without crushing businesses with this unnecessary permitting requirement," Herrera Beutler said in a statement released Wednesday. "Permanently eliminating this rule once and for all would be a victory for an industry that provides good jobs to folks in Southwest Washington and elsewhere."
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.
Also co-sponsoring the forest roads protection bill is Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. In the U.S. Senate, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, have introduced similar legislation, which is sitting in the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee.