U.S. senators introduce Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act that would overturn court ruling subjecting logging roads to tighter clean water restrictions, impacting on public, private forests and jobs
July 15, 2011
– A recent decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will subject logging roads in public and private forests to some of the most stringent environmental protection laws in the United States. In response, Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), today introduced legislation--entitled the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act--that will overturn that decision and return to the model of logging road management that has been successfully utilized for the last 35 years.
The ruling in the case, National Environmental Defense Center (NEDC) v. Brown, asserts that logging road runoff—when managed by a system of ditches and culverts and deposited into rivers and streams—is point source pollution and therefore subject to Clean Water Act (CWA) permitting requirements. According to the senators, this decision could have far-reaching, negative impacts on public and private forests, as well as the communities around them.
“This decision will have substantial impacts on our forests and those who rely on them,” Crapo said. “It will increase litigation; reduce sustainable and environmentally-friendly timber harvesting; further burden our forests with excess fuels and raise additional barriers to the vital mission of improving forest health. The U.S. Forest Service needs to be able to manage the forests, and private forest owners – who are already operating on the margins - need to have access to their property without the burden of new federal permitting requirements.”
“Two decades of appeals and litigation over forestry on federal lands have created a train wreck for our state and region,” Wyden said. “Now, in its decision to reject 35 years’ worth of established Environmental Protection Agency policy, one court would shut down forestry on private, state and tribal lands by subjecting it to the same, endless cycle of litigation. More needs to be done to address the poor condition of forest roads and to protect our water resources, but let’s first look for solutions that avoid the epidemic of litigation and appeals that, in the long run, serve no one’s best interests.”
“In matters involving natural resources there must be a balance between conservation and use. This legislation correctly restores that balance and maintains state management authority that has been successfully used for decades,” said Risch.
Begich said, “This legislation puts decisions back in the hands of states, rather than the courts. We all want to protect water quality and we want efficient government. That is why we need strong state forest practice laws in place instead of wasting time and money on paperwork.”
The legislation has the support of local communities, Tribal members and timber labor groups such as the Forest Products Industry National Labor Management Committee.
Since 1976, this category of runoff has been regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Silviculture Rule, which used the agency’s authority to define nonpoint sources to exclude logging road runoff from permits under the EPA’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Congress assigned regulation of nonpoint sources to the States through adoption of best management practices and state law. In NEDC v. Brown, the 9th Circuit determined that EPA exceeded its authority under the CWA when it defined the practices used to control the runoff from forest roads as a nonpoint source. This legislation would reverse that ruling by codifying the Silviculture Rule into law and restoring management authority to the States.