Stormwater from logging roads spilling out of a culvert. Photo by Chris Winter.

Logging roads kill fish – its been proven time and time again by EPA, state agencies, and independent scientists – and dedicated fishermen will tell you the same thing.  Heavily roaded watersheds often have depressed fish populations, because those roads generate tremendous amounts of sediment that bury spawning areas, clog gills and kill insect prey.  Pollution from logging roads also fouls rural water systems and forces local governments to invest in expensive treatment and filtration systems.

That’s why we’ve been working for five years – with the Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Washington Forest Law Center – to bring logging roads within the Clean Water Act permit program.  Back in August of 2010, the Ninth Circuit agreed with us.  In that decision, the court held that point source discharges of stormwater from logging roads, which is often heavily polluted with sediment, is subject to the Clean Water Act permitting program.  The court also recognized that EPA could implement a fairly straightforward permitting system.

Now, instead of complying with the law, the timber industry is attacking the Clean Water Act, asking for special exemptions.  Yesterday, Senators Wyden (D-OR), Crapo (R-ID), and Begich (D-AK) introduced a bill that would create a loophole in the Clean Water Act tailor made for the timber industry.  Instead of working collaboratively with EPA, state agencies and local stakeholders to design an effective permit program, the timber industry and its lobbyists have gone to Washington, DC in an effort to gut the Clean Water Act.

Ecotrope’s Cassandra Profita blogged about this issue yesterday, noting that some timber industry folks are claiming that a permitting program will shut down their business.  But the same permit program applies to most other U.S. industries, and in fact State of Oregon’s highway system, and the cities of Portland and Eugene all have similar permits in place.  The Clean Water Act hasn’t bankrupted any of these other entities.

Before we believe the Chicken Little scare tactics, we should first give EPA and the states a chance to design an effective permit program that can result in practical, on-the-ground improvements in water quality and salmon habitat.  The Clean Water Act has been around since 1972, and time and time again its has proven to be an effective and efficient tool in protecting our nation’s water.

Please stay up to date on these developments, because they are part of a well-orchestrated attack on the Clean Water Act, which includes recent HR 872, which would exempt pesticide spraying from the same permit program, and HR 2018, which would give states primacy over the EPA regarding standards for water quality under the Clean Water Act.

Polluted stormwater discharged into the South Fork of the Trask River

Polluted stormwater discharged into the South Fork of the Trask River. Photo by Chris Winter.

For more information on the logging road loophole, check out the excellent blog post written by Bethanie Walder from Wildlands CPR and this well written piece by the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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