The Oregonian: "Oregon Senator Ron Wyden under fire from environmental groups for bills on logging roads, industrial pollution"
By Scott Learn
July 26, 2011 -- U.S. Senator Ron Wyden is in hot water with environmentalists for co-sponsoring two bills in recent weeks that protect timber owners from increased federal regulation and delay air pollution rules for industrial boilers.
The bills, including one titled the "EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011," aren't what's expected of an Oregon Democrat rated highly on environmental scorecards, say Wyden's sometime allies.
The timber bill "came like a bolt out of the blue to us," said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild, which worked with Wyden on his compromise plan for eastern Oregon logging.
The bill on industrial boilers and incinerators would delay for at least 3 years a rule "we've been already been waiting on for 10 years," said Mary Peveto, co-founder of Neighbors for Clean Air in Northwest Portland. "It's sort of astounding that Wyden would take this position."
Wyden's moves come as the Republican-controlled House is pushing hard to roll back environmental rules. Environmental groups expect the Democrat-controlled Senate to thwart what they see as extreme legislation.
But Wyden isn't apologizing. Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, also supports backing off increased regulation of logging roads. The Senate's industrial boiler bill is more environmentally friendly than a House version, Wyden said, and would protect Oregon's fledgling efforts to burn wood "biomass" for power.
Wyden, who isn't up for reelection until 2016, noted he has bucked environmental groups before. In 1999 the Sierra Club dubbed his bill on federal timber payments to rural communities and schools "clearcuts for kids."
"What I'm doing in both these bills is what I've done for 15 years," he said, "and that is work with folks on all sides -- scientists, environmental folks and industry people -- to find common ground."
The logging road bill would overturn a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision last year that said loggers in western states, even on private lands, need Clean Water Act stormwater permits for roads that drain to streams.
Congress excluded irrigation runoff from farms as a "point source" under the 1970s act, but not logging operations, the court noted.
Timber groups -- along with Kitzhaber and Wyden -- say the court decision would result in a spate of lawsuits to stall logging.
Environmental groups say the threat of citizen lawsuits is overblown -- Oregon's aggressive activists file one or two a year for all industries, they say -- and increased regulation of non-federal logging is long overdue.
State rules cover logging road construction and maintenance. But a federal permit would prompt more road improvements, environmental groups say, such as redirecting water to roadside swales, improving culverts and hardening road sections vulnerable to landslides and blowouts.
The debate over logging roads quickly turned personal.
Josh Kardon, Wyden's chief of staff until January, lobbied Wyden and other members of Congress on the issue this year on behalf of the National Association of Forest Owners.
That quick transition "exemplifies why there is such broad public disdain with the revolving door policy on Capitol Hill," said Mark Riskedahl, director of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, which filed the suit that led to the 9th Circuit ruling. He called Wyden's bill "a special exemption for a big-moneyed interest group."
Wyden said he would have co-sponsored the bill without Kardon's involvement.
Kardon, who worked for environmental groups in the past, said he took the lobbying job to prevent "the same flood of litigation" in private forests that has stymied logging in Oregon's federal forests, reduced forest health and cut timber jobs.
"Riskedahl and his deep-pocketed, politically powerful funder are using personal attacks to try to intimidate me into dropping my client, and it won't work," Kardon said.
The "funder" is Peter Goldman, director of the non-profit Washington Forest Law Center. Goldman is a Democratic donor whose family wealth strikes fear in timber interests.
Goldman figures law center attorneys contributed roughly $250,000 worth of work to the logging roads case. But the goal is oversight of roads, he said, not lawsuits on individual projects.
Washington has a mandatory program for improvement of logging roads, he noted. Oregon's similar program is voluntary, with more than 3,000 miles of roads improved since 1997.
Wyden said he will convene all sides to come up with a solution, introducing more legislation if any side balks. Environmental groups say removing the threat of increased regulation would give timber owners no incentive to negotiate.
Wyden says the bill on industrial boiler pollution merely gives the Environmental Protection Agency the 15-month delay it requested.
That request came after industry groups said a new rule proposed last year would boost costs dramatically.
Earlier this year, a federal court rejected further delays, noting that there had been numerous delays since the Sierra Club first brought the lawsuit in 2001. The rules will help reduce emissions of fine particulates, a big health hazard, activists say.
The bill goes beyond the EPA's request, said James Pew, an Earthjustice attorney representing the Sierra Club.
It calls for a delay of "not earlier than 5 years" between the rules' introduction and when they take effect, pushing implementation from 2014 to 2017.
It also contains a list of substances burned to produce energy that the EPA can't consider solid waste. Many of them are biomass materials, such as agricultural waste and logging slash. Also included: creosote-treated wood, tire scraps and turpentine.
Wyden said the list may need changes. He negotiated with a fellow co-sponsor, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to include a list at all.
Without the list, he said, "we wouldn't have transparency and we couldn't have the debate."