Judge: Logging Needs Pollution Permitsby David Kravets, Associated Press
Idaho Falls Post Register, October 17, 2003
Companies need to be held liable for runoff
SAN FRANCISCO --A federal judge has ruled for the first time that forest logging is an activity that requires federal stormwater pollution permits.
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, in a Tuesday ruling made available Wednesday, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been misconstruing the 1972 federal Cleanwater Act. Logging companies, she said, are not exempt from obtaining pollution permits for stormwater runoff.
Runoff of dirt, debris and chemicals is a major pollutant in rivers and harms fish and wildlife.
The ruling was based on a lawsuit brought by the Environmental Protection Information Center and other groups against the EPA and a Pacific Lumber Co. logging operation in California's Humboldt County. The groups charged that Pacific Lumber was violating the Clean Water Act in the same manner as a factory that dumps pollutants into a river without a permit.
"This case is about requiring the same permitting that has been applied to most other industries for polluted storm water," said Mike Lozeau, an attorney working with the Environmental Protection Information Center.
Jim Branham, a Pacific Lumber spokesman, said the Northern California logging concern was weighing its legal options, including appealing the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
"Obviously, we're concerned that her ruling, which seems to take the position that culverts, ditches and other kinds of conveyances on forest lands are point sources like pipes out of a factory. It's very disappointing," Branham said. "If, ultimately, that decision becomes the law of the land, it will create complete chaos."
Point sources are the legal term for storm water drainage features, such as ditches and erosion gullies that logging companies build when harvesting wood. When it rains, erosion from them runs downhill into streams.
Laura Gentile, an EPA spokesman, said the agency was reviewing the decision.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said a form of deep plowing, known as ripping, could require farmers to obtain the same type of pollution permits.
The challenged logging takes place around Bear Creek, a brook just upstream of the town of Scotia in Humboldt County.
The environmental group says regulators have listed Bear Creek as "impaired" because of logging runoff that has reduced coho salmon and steelhead fish populations.
Pacific Lumber's Branham said the company should not have to obtain permits because it already follows so-called "best management practices" to reduce runoff.
The case is Environmental Protection Information Center v. Pacific Lumber, 01-2821.
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