Court issues landmark decision on logging roads and the Clean Water Act
August 17, 2010
Today, on behalf of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, the Washington Forest Law Center and the Crag Law Center received a landmark decision from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In a unanimous opinion issued in NEDC v. Brown, a case involving logging roads on Oregon State lands, the Ninth Circuit ruled that polluted stormwater generated by logging roads is subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).
One of the Washington Forest Law Center’s primary focus areas has been to eliminate and reduce the polluted stormwater that is delivered from active and abandoned logging roads to pristine Pacific Northwest streams and rivers. These discharges result in severe harm to fish species that need clean water, such as coho salmon and bull trout.
Why we filed this lawsuit
The lawsuit was brought because roads owned and maintained by the Oregon Department of Forestry, and used by several Oregon timber companies, have been dumping sediment into Oregon rivers even at the same time Oregon is seeking to increase the level of harvest and log-haul in the Tillamook State Forest. The two roads at issue run along two streams that support myriad species of salmon and resident trout, all of which are at risk from the pollution. But of course these kinds of discharges occur along thousands of miles of roads in the Pacific Northwest. The Ninth Circuit specifically rejected federal, state, and industry arguments that stormwater generated by forest roads is no different than stormwater that falls on clearcuts. The former, the court held, is directly discharged into rivers via pipes and ditches, and so is subject to the Clean Water Act’s NPDES permit requirements.
Why this ruling is important
“This ruling is an important step toward gaining meaningful protection for Oregon’s rivers and streams,” said WFLC staff attorney Paul Kampmeier, one of the attorneys representing NEDC. “The decision is a landmark ruling that affirms the importance of clean water while ensuring that timber companies heed Congress’ prohibition on the discharge of pollutants to U.S. waters."
The ruling affects logging roads in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Alaska, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Montana. The ruling hardly means the end of commercial logging but it does require forest landowners to build, maintain, and abandon old logging roads so that they do not dump dirt into rivers. The ruling will require State agencies that have been delegated the responsibility of administering the federal Clean Water Act to issue NPDES permits and ensure that road construction and maintenance practices limit or eliminate such discharges.
WFLC and Chris Winter at the Portland-based Crag Law Center co-counseled this case. Learn about Crag Law Center here.
Learn about the fine work of Northwest Environmental Defense Center here.
Learn more about this case here.
Read the opinion.
Read the press release.
Read the August 24, 2010, Tillamook Headlight Herald article, "Judge: Logging roads pollute"
Read the August 17, 2010, Seattle Times article, “Appeals court: mud from logging roads is pollution”
Read the August 17, 2010, Oregon Public Broadcasting article, “Logging road runoff decision could have big implications in Northwest”