The Oregonian: "Supreme Court decision won't end battle over logging road pollution, activists vow"
By Scott Learn
The U.S. Supreme Court's rejection today of increased regulation of logging road runoff will not end efforts to cut logging road pollution in the Northwest, backers of the Oregon-based lawsuit that triggered the court's review vowed.
In a 7-1 decision, the court reversed a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said active logging roads need Clean Water Act permits like those required of factories and feedlots.
The original cases were brought by the Portland-based Northwest Environmental Defense Center, which took samples in the Tillamook State Forest of muddy water washing into streams from roads used by logging trucks.
Last year, just before the Supreme Court heard the case, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new rule that said it would not regulate logging roads like industrial "point" sources.
But Paul Kampmeier of the Washington Forest Law Center, one of NEDC's attorneys on the case, said the Supreme Court's decision made clear that the Environmental Protection Agency has leeway to interpret clean water rules as it sees fit.
EPA has said it is still studying the impact of logging road pollution, Kampmeier noted, and has acknowledged that the runoff hurts water quality and native fish, including salmon.
"The court generally ruled that the ball's in EPA's court," Kampmeier said. "We're going to continue on behalf of our client pushing EPA to do something about it."
EPA, which oversees state regulation of non-point sources, could pressure states to improve logging road rules and oversight. Solutions for reducing runoff range from bioswale sediment traps to road regrading to hay bales placed to stop sediment.
Heavy logging trucks compress aggregates laid on the roads, helping to send dirt, rock and sand into creeks and rivers. That can smother salmon and trout eggs, reduce oxygen levels and bury insects fish feed on.
The court's decision was a relief for forest landowners, the timber industry and the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Treating unpaved logging roads as industrial activity would create regulatory chaos, industry groups argued, with permits, monitoring and data collection needed for thousands of miles of roads and thousands of culverts, ditches and pipelines.
Oregon timber companies and regulators say they've made huge strides under Oregon's 1971 Forest Practices Act, the first of its kind in the nation.
Loggers have to follow best management practices, including not building new roads along streams. ODF has 51 stewardship foresters who can inspect logging projects, focusing on those most likely to affect streams.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed a friend of the court brief on the timber industry side, said in a statement that the decision was "simple common sense."
"The claim that rainwater on forest roads is industrial pollution is a serious contortion of the Clean Water Act," the group said, "and the Supreme Court was right to reject it decisively."