U.S. top court rules for timber industry over road runoff

Posted March 20, 2013, at 8:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON, March 20 — The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday endorsed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s long-standing decision not to require Clean Water Act permitting for stormwater that runs off logging roads.

Pat Sirois, coordinator of the Sustainable Forest Initiative in Maine, said the decision was good news for Maine’s forestry industry.

“We are constantly working on these roads in Maine,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “At any one time, there can be 100 repair or maintenance operations going on. If we had to seek a permit for every culvert or stream crossing, operations would grind to a halt.”

Sirois also said that Maine is a leader in the use of best management practices in the industry.

“As a state, we score very high in terms of our ability to work on these roads and preserve water resources,” he said. “If anybody deserves to maintain the status quo it’s us.”

SFI in Maine is a non-profit organization that works at the local level to promote standards that broaden the practice of sustainable forestry and ensure on-the-ground progress, according to information on its website.

“Maine is known for its carefully crafted, sustainable harvesting and monitoring practices,” Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walt Whitcomb said Wednesday. “The court’s common sense decision preserves our responsibility for stewardship in this area.”

The nine-member court ruled on a 7-1 vote, with Justice Stephen Breyer recused, that the EPA’s conclusion was a reasonable interpretation of the law.

The dispute — centering on two cases that the court consolidated — has attracted intense interest from the timber industry, which is keen to be exempt from Clean Water Act permitting. A total of 31 state attorneys general weighed in to support Oregon, which also opposes permitting. Maine joined an amicus brief last fall, according to the Maine attorney general’s office.

The case arose when the environmental group, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, challenged EPA’s interpretation of the law in federal court.

In Wednesday’s opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that it was reasonable for EPA to conclude that runoff from logging roads did not fit within the definition in the Clean Water Act and associated regulations of the term “industrial activity.”

Kennedy also noted that states already regulate logging roads, meaning the EPA “could reasonably have concluded that further regulation in this area would be duplicative or counterproductive.”

The two cases are Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-338 and Georgia-Pacific West Inc. v. Northwest Environmental Center, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-347. (Editing by Chris Reese)

 

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