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Forest Roads Fix Included in Must-Pass Spending Bill

Risch, Crapo, Simpson, Seek to Overturn Court Decision that Could Cripple Timber Industry

December 15, 2011

Washington, DC - A must-pass appropriations bill unveiled today by the House Appropriations Committee includes a critical effort by Idaho Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson to overturn a court decision that would bring forestry to a standstill in the Pacific Northwest and across the country.

In August 2010, In NEDC v. Brown, the Circuit Court of Appeals for 9th Circuit ruled that logging road runoff, when channeled through a system of ditches and culverts and deposited into nearby rivers and streams, is point-source pollution and therefore subject to the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA).  By overturning the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 36-year-old policy of deferring to state regulators to manage such runoff, the decision will increase litigation on federal forests and, for the first time, subject state and private forests to the same specter.

In response, Simpson, who chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, included a provision in H.R. 2584, the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act, to overturn the court ruling and make permanent the successful system that EPA had utilized for 36 years.  Meanwhile, Risch and Crapo, along with democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Begich of Alaska, introduced similar standalone legislation, the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act, which has 21 additional cosponsors, including seven Democrats.  In the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington) and Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) introduced identical legislation, cosponsored by 51 members, including Simpson.

At Simpson’s insistence, legislation filed this week to finish out the nine appropriations bills for FY2012 includes language prohibiting the EPA from requiring permits for stormwater runoff from forest roads through FY2012.  Efforts by Crapo and Risch in the Senate were essential in ensuring that this language was included in the final appropriations bill.

"Management authority to control runoff from logging roads must remain with the states.  For over 36 years the states have successfully managed this runoff through state laws and mitigation practices," said Risch.  "To subject federal, state and private forest lands to the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act will lock up these lands in endless litigation.  I appreciate the work Rep. Simpson did in getting this in the appropriations bill."

"While this appropriations bill still needs to be approved by both Houses of Congress and signed by the president, the forest roads provision is a major victory that we should all be proud of," said Crapo.  "We in the Northwest have finally begun to work collaboratively to solve major natural resource conflicts.  For proof, one need only look to the Owyhee Initiative in southwest Idaho and the Clearwater Basin Collaborative in north central Idaho, where ranchers, conservationists, county commissioners, tribes and recreationists are setting aside their differences and coming together to solve problems outside of the court room.  This Court decision, if allowed to stand, would be a major setback for those efforts.  I want to thank all of my colleagues who took part in this effort, and especially Mike Simpson, for helping to make this happen."

"If enacted, the 9th Circuit Court’s decision would devastate the forest industry in the northwest—and its negative impacts are underscored by fact that this provision has broad bipartisan, bicameral support among those who represent the impacted states," said Simpson.  "This language is a simple but important fix to a misguided and problematic decision, providing the industry with needed certainty and allowing the EPA’s long-standing policy on forest roads to stand.  I deeply appreciate the support of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both the House and Senate, particularly Senators Crapo and Risch, in communicating to Senate Leadership and the White House how important this language is."

Since 1976, this category of runoff has been regulated by the EPA’s Silviculture Rule, which used the agency’s authority to define nonpoint sources to exclude logging road runoff from permits under the EPA’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.  Congress assigned regulation of nonpoint sources to the States through adoption of best management practices and state law.  In NEDC v. Brown, the 9th Circuit determined that EPA exceeded its authority under the CWA when it defined the practices used to control the runoff from forest roads as a nonpoint source.  This legislation would reverse that ruling by codifying the Silviculture Rule into law and restoring management authority to the States.

In building support for this effort, the Idaho delegation and others worked closely with the National Alliance of Forest Owners and its member companies across the country.  This legislation also has the support of county commissioners, labor groups and countless others, including the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Boone and Crockett Club and the Wild Sheep Foundation.